Healing Arthritis

Your 3-Step Guide to Conquering Arthritis Naturally

Learn More

Simply Arthritis Group Coaching Program

Join our community to live a pain-free life

Learn More

Arthritis Essentials Kit

Relieve Pain With Doctor Approved Supplements

Learn More
Posted on

What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You about Arthritis

The “itis” in “arthritis” means inflammation. Inflammation is the most basic problem in all arthritis, whether it is what we traditionally call “inflammatory arthritis,” like autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, or the arthritis most associated with wear and tear on joints over time, osteoarthritis.

The traditional medical approach to these two kinds of joint inflammation is to use different medications, depending on the type or arthritis, to block the inflammation process. Although these can be successful in decreasing symptoms and can in some cases prevent further joint destruction, the medications don’t get at the root cause of why you developed the inflammation in the first place.  

Functional medicine takes a deeper look at the causes of inflammation and gives you options for reversing the process where it starts: in the gut, in the mouth, from your food, and from the stress response. Traditionally, doctors almost never evaluate  these areas when addressing joint pain, but fortunately functional medicine has the tools to do just that.

This is exactly why Dr. Blum, our Medical Director of Blum Center for Health, the medical center where I am a Functional Nurse Practitioner, wrote her new book, Healing Arthritis. After being diagnosed with arthritis, she cured herself, and then spent the better part of two years studying arthritis and writing this book. How do I know it works? Because we successfully treat our patients with the very same protocol every day! Learn More about Healing Arthritis

What Your Gut and Mouth Have to Do with Arthritis

The mouth and the gut are two of the biggest reservoirs of beneficial bacteria in the body. These bacteria are vital to our health and we can’t live without them. Normally, the bacteria in the gut do many good things for us, like nourishing our gut lining to keep it healthy—but keep in mind that the health of these bacteria depends on things like eating plenty of fiber, avoiding sugar, having very little exposure to antibiotics, and having strong digestive power.

Gut bacteria can become a major source of inflammation, if the bacteria are not in balance, leading over time to a condition called leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability.  Leaky gut allows the bacteria, food particles and inflammation to seep out of the gut and spread throughout the body, especially to the joints, causing pain and inflammation. Research has borne out this connection: many people with arthritis will experience significant reduction or reversal of their joint pain and inflammation by rebalancing their gut flora with a program of food, antibacterial herbs, probiotics, and glutamine.   

In a similar way, the abundant bacteria in the mouth can create inflammation in the body in people with gingivitis or periodontal disease. The inflamed gums allow the inflammation generated by the bacteria to enter the body and cause system-wide inflammation. One of the most important things you can do to prevent this trigger for joint pain, in addition to eating a diet low in sugar and high in vegetables, is to floss every day and have your teeth cleaned regularly. Studies have shown—and it is our experience at Blum Center—that for a certain percentage of people with inflammatory arthritis, reversing their periodontal disease also reversed or reduced their joint disease.

The Food You Eat & Arthritis

At Blum Center, we have any number of patients with both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis who have done an elimination diet and found out that by eliminating foods such as gluten and dairy, their joint pain got much better.  When they reintroduce these foods, they get a flare of pain. Most of the time, their rheumatologist will tell them that eliminating foods will not help arthritis, but we see the benefits every day and medical research supports the association as well.

And, Yes, Stress is a Major Arthritis Trigger

And then there’s stress!  We so often leave it for last, I think because we find it so challenging to figure out what to do about it. When stress comes into the body, it can make a significant impact on our biochemistry by changing hormone balance, energy production, and digestive power. Many of these biochemical changes lead to some form of inflammation and patients’ experiences as well as our own show us that a flare of symptoms often follows a stressful time. Doing practices like meditation, listening to beautiful music, restorative yoga, a walk in nature can shift this inflammatory biochemistry even when you may not be able to eliminate the life events that are triggering a stress response.  Ten minutes of focused breathing or meditation can make a world of difference as well as a difference in our world!

In her new book, Healing Arthritis, Dr. Blum presents the exact 3-Step Protocol that we use with patients at Blum Center for Health. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage we recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, Dr. Blum gives you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

Meet Elizabeth: In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.

Posted on

3 Things You Can Do Today to Stop Arthritis Pain

As you may know we’ve been talking about arthritis a lot recently. You see our Medical Director, Dr. Susan Blum, just wrote a new book, Healing Arthritis, and it releases on October 24th. This is very exciting for us and it’s created a lot of interest in arthritis-related information from our patients.

In my medical practice at Blum Center for Health, arthritic patients most commonly ask me, “What can I do about my pain?”

3 Things You Can Today Do to Stop Arthritis Pain

The first thing you must do is make pain-free food choices.

In fact, the single most important influence on reducing your pain is the food you eat!

Here’s what you need to do:

Increase the number of healthy foods you are eating.

  • Your grocery list should include antioxidant rich dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard; and deep colorful berries like blackberries and blueberries.  
  • Make a habit of eating clean fish once or twice weekly, it’s full of inflammation-lowering omega 3 fatty acids. Buy high-quality, grass-fed, non-GMO animal products and eat them sparingly, perhaps once each week.
  • Eat loads of healthy, high-quality oils and fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  • Buy or make bone broth, rich in collagen, and take a good quality  B vitamin.
  • And don’t forget to fit lots of fiber onto your plate in the form of whole grains, legumes, beans, and veggies — to feed the good bacteria of the gut. (Avoid gluten if you know you are sensitive to it, or if you have autoimmune disease).
  • Spice your foods with turmeric, the bright yellow indian spice that’s not only delicious but also combats inflammation.  

Avoid inflammatory foods — this includes highly processed foods made with white flour and white sugar, and practically everything that comes in a box.  Avoid processed flour products like baked goods and cookies, and sweetened dairy products like ice cream. Shop the perimeter of the store – buy real, whole foods in their natural state.

Remove common food allergens by doing the allergy elimination diet – what Dr. Blum calls the Leaky Gut Diet – no gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, or nightshade vegetables.  After 3 weeks, reintroduce each food one at a time to see if any trigger symptoms. The elimination diet not only cuts out common irritating foods but also helps you avoid processed food and many added inflammatory fillers that often come with them. It’s a great starting point.

 

Utilize anti-arthritis supplements to decrease pain.

There are several supplements that have been scientifically proven to decrease inflammation and pain. These are some of the supplements I commonly use with my arthritic patients.

  • Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) & Omega 6 (GLA) Fatty acids – these powerful anti-inflammatory fats have been found to reduce pain and improve physical function in Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Curcumin – this plant-derived antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory  has been found to reduce pain and stiffness in Osteoarthritis.
  • Vitamin C – the link between oxidative stress and joint damage is clear. Vitamin C (and other antioxidants) have been shown to reduce pain (and oxidative stress) in inflammatory joint disease.
  • Probiotics – when we think about joint health, our attention naturally turns to the gut and the health of the microbiome (the bacteria that live in the digestive tract).  Improving the balance of the terrain in your gut with a good probiotic can help with the arthritic pain and inflammation throughout the body.

Powerfully deal with stress: Less stress = less pain.

When it comes to arthritis, the impact of stress is largely overlooked. However, stress and trauma have serious consequences on your gut, your immune system, and your arthritis pain.  Improving your resilience in the face of stressors will keep your arthritis from flaring.  

How to destress:

  • Simplify your schedule. If you are suffering from arthritic pain this is a cry for help from your biological system. Give yourself time and space to renew and rebuild the resilience that you are lacking. Open space in your week to just be.
  • Find time for sleep. Make sure you are getting over 8 hours of sleep a night. Work backwards from your wake-up time and get into bed 1 hour prior to that. Make a routine at bedtime that is relaxing and supportive – take a bath, sip some tea, read a pleasant book. Avoid screens 2 hours prior to bed and help the whole family get on board. Doing things with support makes them much easier!  
  • Make room for movement. You don’t need to add a strenuous exercise routine right away unless you find that that helps your pain, but work towards getting there. To start, just make a plan to have a short walk outside, or put down your yoga mat and gently stretch and move your body beyond the confines of the standing and sitting of your normal day. If you’re feeling more ambitious, try a yoga or tai chi class for meditative movement.
  • Book a massage – or other bodywork – for pain relief and stress reduction.  Acupuncture, craniosacral, myofascial release are all good options to check out.
  • Explore mindfulness meditation.  This can be a simple as listening to a guided meditation on an app or with our Blum Center recordings.  It can be more regimented like finding an MBSR or TM class in your area and starting a daily practice.  It can also be as simple as breathing in and out throughout your day with intention.  
  • Consider therapy.  The stress and trauma from past experience sometimes holds us back from being able to let go of tension in the body.  We know that past traumatic experience leads to worse pain and function in autoimmune disease – and we’ve found that addressing it can lead to improved symptoms.  

The great thing is you can do this yourself!

In her new book, Healing Arthritis, Dr. Blum presents the exact 3-Step Protocol that we use with patients at Blum Center for Health. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage we recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, Dr. Blum gives you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

To recap, the 3 actions you can start today to decrease your arthritis pain is 1) eat an anti-arthritis diet 2) take the appropriate supplements and 3) build resiliency against stress. Do these things and you will feel better with less pain and much more energy.

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

Posted on

Surviving Menopause: Hormones, Herbs, and More

Woman practicing yoga for self-care

A common question from patients is: “Should I take herbs or hormones for menopausal symptoms, and if so, which ones?”

This is a huge topic and the truth is there is no “right answer.”

Treating menopausal symptoms needs to be based on each woman’s unique situation accounting for her personal history, family history, current health goals. Without question, estrogen replacement is the most effective treatment for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

While hormone replacement isn’t for everyone, there IS a lot of buzz right now around bioidentical hormones. For you to make an educated decision, it’s important to understand the difference between bioidentical (often compounded) and non-bioidentical hormones (conventional), and when you might consider using them.  In my upcoming talk at Blum Center, and further down in this blog, we will review all of this information.

But, not everyone wants to take extra hormones or can’t take hormones for health reasons.  Well, hope is not lost!  I will review several herbal remedies and lifestyle changes that women can use successfully.  This is a meaty topic, so let’s dive in!

“Hot Flashes?  No Hormones?  No problem!”

Many women come to me seeking strategies to address things like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disruption, and mood changes without hormones. In this case we have SO much to offer. Conventional medicine offers several antidepressants that have been found to work for hot flashes: paroxetine and venlafaxine are some examples. Gabapentin is another option.  Unfortunately, these drugs do tend to have other unwanted side effects such as sleepiness, headache, nausea, dizziness, and more. Rest assured, this is NOT our approach at Blum Center!  You don’t have to take an antidepressant to get you through menopause!

Here are just a few of the options that we can offer you:

St. John’s Wort has been shown in multiple studies to improve women’s sense of wellbeing, decrease hot flashes, improve sexual wellbeing, and reduce overall menopause rating scores (Grube, 1999 and Abdali , 2010).  Studies show that improvement was seen after 2-3 months and dose is typically around 300 mg taken three times a day.  St. John’s wort is metabolized in the liver and can interfere with the metabolism of many other drugs, so always tell your doctor if you are taking it.

Panax Ginseng has been shown to improve menopausal symptoms of depression and well being, increase energy, decrease insomnia (Wiklund, 1999 and Tode, 1999).  The dose is typically a standardized extract of 200mg a day.

Sage has been shown to decrease sweating by up to 64% in women who have hot flashes (Bommer, 2011).  If you are using dried leaf in capsule or tea take 1000mg twice a day.

Soy, Red Clover, Kudzu all contain various isoflavones such as daidzein, genistein, and puerarin. These compounds act as weak estrogen receptor modulators. Data on isoflavones for hot flash relief is mixed. Some studies show a benefit, others do not.  The tricky thing about some of these compounds, like daidzein, is that it turns out your gut bacteria have to convert it into equol to have the biggest impact. But it is estimated that only 30-50% of humans are “equol producers.” This may account for why soy seems to help some women more than others when it comes to hot flashes.My suggestion is to try it for about a month and if you see no improvement then stop. For soy, I would rather see patients eat whole, organic soy foods such as edamame, tofu, soy milk instead of taking a pill. Food is always better than supplements and foods with whole soy proteins (not soy protein isolate) are better for you. As always, any food or herb that has estrogenic qualities, you must use with caution in the setting of an estrogen-related cancer. Additionally, soy in large quantities (three times a day) can impact your thyroid function, so ask your doctor if you need to limit it. Also, these could interact with platelet/anticoagulant medicines.

Black Cohosh has shown mixed results in studies for menopausal symptoms. Many studies look at Black Cohosh along with a few other herbs. This is common practice in botanical medicine, taking advantage of the synergistic effects that herbs can have when taken together. It does make it more difficult to know if individual ingredients are beneficial. Black Cohosh is generally well tolerated and I mention it because it shows up in a lot of supplements that are geared for women’s health, menopause in particular. It is unclear if Black Cohosh directly interacts with estrogen receptors in humans, but to be on the safe side, I would avoid this one if you are an estrogen receptor positive cancer.

Clinical Hypnosis can decrease hot flashes by 55% compared to 13% in one well designed randomized study of 187 women (Elkins GR, 2013).  Hypnosis also helped with improvement in hot flash interference, sleep quality, and treatment satisfaction.

Acupuncture has been shown in multiple studies to improve sleep disruption (Chiu, 2015).  Researchers did a summary review of 31 studies involving over 2400 patients and found there was significant improvement in sleep as well as changes in blood hormone levels of estradiol and follicle stimulating hormone. And the larger the hormonal changes, the bigger the improvement on sleep. Data on acupuncture for hot flashes, however, is mixed. It appears that when acupuncture is compared to no acupuncture, there is a significant improvement seen. But when researchers compare real acupuncture with sham acupuncture, they don’t see a difference. This indicates that at least for hot flashes, acupuncture probably has a strong placebo effect. In my opinion, when the placebo effect works in our favor, it is a wonderful thing and I think we should take advantage of it!

Yoga has also been shown to be beneficial for hot flashes and emotional symptoms like stress in multiple studies (Joshi, 2011 and Chattha, 2008). Yoga has so many health benefits that I recommend it to almost all of my patients. In this fast-paced world, the practice of yoga slows down our sympathetic nervous system which is integrally involved with hot flashes. One caveat: I don’t recommend hot yoga as that will most assuredly make hot flashes worse!

“I’m Fine with Hormones – Bring Back the Estrogen!”

There has been a lot of research in the past few decades looking at hormone replacement for menopausal symptoms and the field is constantly growing. As with most medicines, there are risks and benefits to consider when deciding if you want to take hormones and it is important to have that discussion with your healthcare provider, or come and see me to discuss, because your personal and family history influences this decision enormously. In general, we do believe that hormone replacement therapy, especially bioidentical therapy, in low dose for the first few years of menopause is safe for most women.

My approach?  I always use bioidentical hormones and aim for the lowest effective dose, and prefer topical or local estrogen to limit unwanted effects.

“Bioidentical, Synthetic, I’m Confused…”

Bioidentical hormones are compounds that exactly mimic the hormones that we have circulating in our bodies. Those bioidentical hormones may be synthetic, in the sense that they were made in a lab, and that is not necessarily bad. Two of the most common hormones prescribed in this country are not bioidentical: conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) and medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA). These compounds act similarly to our own estrogen and progesterone, but nevertheless, have actions in our bodies that are distinct.

Historically, we assumed that CEE and MPA would be equivalent to bioidentical hormones, but as researchers have begun to compare the two in head-to-head studies, we now know there are differences especially in the progestogens (Stanczyk, 2013). Consensus is now building that bioidentical progesterone is probably safer than MPA. Although CEE and MPA are the most commonly prescribed hormone replacement regimens in this country, there are plenty of FDA approved bioidentical options for us to choose from including estradiol pill, patch, or gel form as well as micronized progesterone in pill form.

“So What is Compounding?”

Compounding medicine is the practice of taking one or more individual ingredients and mixing them together in the lab and creating a new compound that isn’t otherwise sold as a brand name product. The new medicine can be specially formulated for an individual patient to avoid allergenic ingredients, create new doses, convert a pill to a cream, combine medicines into one, etc.

Having access to high quality compounding pharmacies is extremely valuable in expanding the range of pharmaceutical offerings to the public.  For example, one FDA approved bioidentical progesterone product on the market in the US. contains peanut oil which some women are allergic to. This is a prime example of when compounding progesterone is a life saver!

There are pros and cons to using FDA approved drugs vs compounding drugs. The advantage of using an FDA approved medicine is that the approval process is stringent in terms of demonstrating safety, appropriate dosing, and efficacy. Additionally, the FDA drugs and facilities are highly regulated. Also, since the majority of research has been done using FDA approved drugs, physicians feel more comfortable prescribing them as they have been thoroughly vetted in clinical trials.  [A side note: the drug companies are the ones that fund the bulk of research since they can afford to do so. It costs millions of dollars to carry out a large clinical trial and very few entities can fund those studies.] The disadvantage is that sometimes we might want to give a drug in a different form than is available. In terms of compounding, the advantage is the ability to tailor a medicine specific to the needs of an individual patient.  The downside is that there is not as much safety and efficacy data on individual formulas, nor as much regulation on the actual compounding pharmacies themselves.

My approach to menopause is to get to know my patient, figure out what her goals are for the menopause transition, determine her risk profile, and come up with the best treatment plan together.

Meet Dr. Fitz:  Bronwyn Fitz, M.D. is a board certified Obstetrician Gynecologist who is fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. In her practice she melds traditional medicine with non-Western approaches, nutrition, botanicals, mind/body therapies and lifestyle interventions to help women address their gynecological and reproductive health concerns. Her interest in mindfulness and meditation led her to pursue a two-year Fellowship at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, under the leadership of world-renowned Integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil.

Posted on

Avoid These Foods If You Have Arthritis

If you suffer from arthritis, you’ve probably been told the only way to deal with your joint pain is to take medication, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Here’s what you probably weren’t told:

The single most important influence on not only managing, but also healing your arthritis, is the food you eat.

Yes, what most doctors don’t tell you is that you do not have to suffer — if you eat an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritis diet, and you heal your gut and your immune system —  you can live a pain-free life. It’s that simple!

This is exactly why Dr. Blum, our Medical Director of Blum Center for Health, the medical center where I am Director of Nutrition, wrote her new book, Healing Arthritis. After being diagnosed with arthritis, she cured herself, and then spent the better part of two years studying arthritis and writing this book. How do I know it works? Because we successfully treat our patients with the very same protocol every day! Learn More about Healing Arthritis

What Food Has to do With Your Arthritis

The scientific evidence is clear that food is the #1 root cause of arthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions. To understand this, you need to make the connection between food and gut health. If your gut, which is your entire digestive tract, is out of balance, a condition called dysbiosis and leaky gut, your joints will swell and ache. And the health of your gut is mostly determined by what you are feeding the microbes (the bacteria that live in your gut).  

So, how do you use food as medicine to relieve your joint pain? A great place to start is eliminating the foods that we have discovered can aggravate arthritis pain. Remember, this is a temporary diet. While you remove these foods, you should be working on treating dysbiosis and healing your leaky gut, and once you do, you will likely be able to eat these foods again.

Dr. Blum describes in detail how to do this in her new book, Healing Arthritis, and she has also designed a companion coaching program that includes healing the gut. → Learn More about the Simply Arthritis Group Coaching Program

However, removing foods that trigger arthritis symptoms now can provide great relief and reduce your pain!

Avoid These Foods to Reduce Arthritis Pain

  • Processed foods that are high in sugar, white flour, food dyes and preservatives. These foods promote the growth of the wrong kind of bacteria in your gut. We recommend taking these foods out permanently. This includes fruit juices, high sugar fruit, dried fruit, all added sugar and artificial sweeteners except stevia. It also includes processed white flour products like muffins, cakes, breads, cookies and crackers, even if they are gluten-free. These foods have an addictive quality to them, resist! 
  • All nightshades. These contain a chemical called solanine, which causes inflammation and joint pain in arthritis sufferers. Avoid tomatoes, white potatoes, all peppers, eggplants, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and goji berries. You can do a challenge with this group of foods – take them out for 21 days, and then add them back to see how they make you feel. 
  • Gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and peanuts. These foods are the most common triggers for system-wide inflammation (like arthritis), as well as gut symptoms (like reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal discomfort). Sorry eggs, not every-body loves you! Again, you can take them out for 21 days, and then add them back in one-by-one to see how they make you feel. 
  • Alcohol. This causes inflammation in the body, stressing your gut and detox systems. 
  • Coffee:  Organic coffee is high in antioxidants, but many people have a dependency on this high-caffeine beverage to manage energy and focus during the day. See how you feel without it. Then, you can add one cup back in after you experience life without it, if you truly need it. For decaf, use Swiss-water processed (no chemicals). 
  • Grains: If you have severe arthritis or autoimmune disease, your gut is likely very damaged. In addition to removing gluten, you might need to remove all grains to feel better.  

Remove these foods and you will be amazed at how much better you will feel without them. This is a fantastic first step!

And guess what? You can do this on your own!

In Dr. Blum’s new book, Healing Arthritis, she presents the exact 3-Step Protocol that we use with our patients at Blum Center for Health. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage we recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, Dr. Blum’s newest book gives you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

Remember, the #1 step you can take starting today is to remove the foods I outlined above. Do this, and you will begin feeling better with less pain and more vitality.

About Mary: Mary Gocke, Director of Nutrition at Blum Center for Health, has been successfully using food and nutrition science to treat and heal people with chronic illnesses and acute conditions for over 25 years. When Mary’s not helping people feel better through nutrition, this mother of two grown children can be found practicing yoga, which she has taught for years, or in her kitchen cooking something colorful.

 

Posted on

The 3 Must-Do’s to Heal Your Arthritis

Did you know that about one in four people have arthritis at this very moment? This number one cause of disability worldwide affects an estimated 54.4 million Americans, which is about 22.7% of the population. The biggest misconception is that it’s a disease that only old people get. It is, I believe, the 21st Century epidemic.

This rise in arthritis is why I’ve been spending the better part of two years studying arthritis and writing a book, Healing Arthritis. You see, over the past two decades in my private practice I have seen more and more people suffering with arthritis. Learn More about Healing Arthritis 

Why So Many People Have Arthritis

  1. Evidence clearly points to environmental changes. Simply put, the food you eat and your exposure to microbes and toxins are the likely root of arthritis as well as other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as autoimmunity, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, and cancer.

    Scientists believe that disease and inflammation are probably the result of a mismatch between our genetics and our environment. In other words, the changes in the environment are relatively recent in the history of mankind and our genes haven’t had a chance to catch up and adapt!
  2. Your gut has not adapted to the changes in the environment. This is very important because thousands of research studies and articles have been published in the past decade proving the gut-arthritis connection, and showing us how system-wide inflammation begins deep inside your digestive system.

    Your gut microbiome, the 100 trillion or so bacteria that live within you, are key players in the health of your immune system and a healthy gut is mandatory for preventing and treating any inflammatory disease. It’s clear that healing the gut to heal the joints is a valid, scientifically supported approach to treating arthritis.

The 3 Must-Do’s to Heal Your Arthritis

  1. The single most important influence on gut health, and arthritis, over the long term is the food you eat. Hands down the most potent step you can take is eating an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritis diet. The foods you eat have a direct impact on your gut, your immune system and your arthritic symptoms. It’s important to eat loads of vegetables and fruits, and incorporate high-quality fats and oils, (like avocado, olive oil, nuts & seeds), and to choose high-quality, grass-fed, non-GMO animal products. After all, everything an animal eats, you eat in a more concentrated form!
  2. Heal Your Gut. There is no doubt that the gut bacteria are involved in the onset of inflammation and pain in arthritis. By addressing the root cause of inflammation with food and supplements, and building resiliency to stress, you can repair your gut, reduce inflammation and alleviate the pain in your joints. In my practice we remove known inflammatory foods, such as sugar, white flour, and low-quality processed foods to allow the gut to heal in combination with gut-healing supplements, like curcumin, and l-glutamine. 
  3. Build Resiliency Against Stress. The impact of stress and trauma have serious consequences on the gut, the immune system and your arthritis. Stress can be sudden, or it can be chronic and under the surface. Even good things, like getting married, can cause a stress response in the body. Learning a new way to respond to stress before it takes hold protects your whole body, your immune system and ultimately prevents your arthritis from flaring. Strategies could include anything from mindfulness meditation to hanging out in nature or dancing to invigorating music!

The great thing is you can do this yourself!

In my new book, Healing Arthritis, I present the exact 3-Step Protocol that I use with patients in my private practice. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage I recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, I give you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

Another Way to Begin Healing Your Arthritis

When I discovered I had arthritis, (yes, I had arthritis!) I couldn’t believe it.  I had been treating arthritis in my clinical practice for almost two decades with great success using Functional Medicine, but never thought it would happen to me.

I decided to make it my personal mission to bring healing to the millions of people suffering with this condition.

In fact, I recently interviewed the TOP EXPERTS in arthritis, gut health, nutrition and mind-body medicine, including Amy Myers, MD, Aviva Romm, MD, David Perlmutter, MD, James Gordon, MD, and Jeffrey Bland, MD. See Who Else I Interviewed 

And I’m bringing everything I learned from them to you for FREE!

Join my FREE Arthritis Summit, a week-long series that consists of interviews from the top experts in Functional Medicine, nutrition, integrative, and mind-body healthcare. Join Now

The summit will cover the functional medicine approach to finding the triggers of the inflammation, with a focus on the research looking at the connection between the gut, your microbiome and arthritis, including specific treatment approaches with case studies. We’ll review exactly the best nutritional advice for reducing inflammation and keeping your gut healthy, and also the connection between stress and inflammation and what you can do to make yourself more resilient to the effects of stress in your life.  Yes, I Want the FREE Interviews

Posted on

Why Arthritis is the 21st Century Epidemic

arthritis

Several weeks ago I sent a survey to my entire email list asking “What do you want to know about arthritis?”

The results stunned me! Hundreds of people took the time to share their concerns about arthritis — a topic near and dear to my heart.  

You see, I’ve been spending the better part of two years studying arthritis and writing a book, Healing Arthritis. Why? Because over the past 10 years in my private practice I have seen more and more people suffering with arthritis. Learn More about Healing Arthritis.

Mark my words … Arthritis is the 21st Century epidemic.

One in four people have arthritis at this very moment. This number one cause of disability worldwide affects an estimated 54.4 Americans, which is about 22.7% of the population. The biggest misconception is that it’s a disease that only old people get.

And here are what my readers told me, overwhelmingly, are their top concerns:

  • I experience pain and uncomfortable symptoms.    62% of respondents
  • I want to learn how to create healthy habits.             62% of respondents
    that help my symptoms.
  • I want to know exactly how to heal my arthritis.      60% of respondents
  • I want to know which supplements and herbs.        59% of respondents
    and how to take them, to heal my arthritis.
  • I want to improve my quality of life.                          59% of respondents
  • I am afraid my arthritis will get worse.                     57% of respondents
  • I need an easy, step-by-step plan to follow.             56% of respondents

This is exactly why I wrote my latest book, Healing Arthritis. And, I can relate!

When I discovered I had arthritis, (yes, I had arthritis!) I couldn’t believe it.  I had been treating arthritis in my clinical practice for almost two decades with great success using Functional Medicine, but never thought it would happen to me. Over the years, I discovered the exact steps needed to treat and heal arthritis, and after using these steps to heal myself, I decided to make it my personal mission to bring healing to the millions of people suffering with this condition.

I have learned through my own clinical experience, working with thousands of patients in my private practice, and through personal experience, just how debilitating arthritis can be.

The great news is: There is something you can do about it!

Here are two ways you can get started on healing your arthritis for the rest of your life:

  1. Join my FREE Arthritis Summit! I am excited to share that I am hosting the Arthritis Summit, a week-long FREE series that consists of interviews from the top experts in Functional Medicine, nutrition, integrative, and mind-body healthcare.  Sign up now.  

    The summit will cover the functional medicine approach to finding the triggers of the inflammation, with a focus on the research looking at the connection between the gut, your microbiome and arthritis, including specific treatment approaches with case studies. We’ll review exactly the best nutritional advice for reducing inflammation and keeping your gut healthy, and also the connection between stress and inflammation and what you can do to make yourself more resilient to the effects of stress in your life. 
  2. Order my new book, Healing Arthritis! It is the exact 3-Step Protocol that I use with patients in my private practice. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage I recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, I give you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

It is my intention to bring relief and healing to the millions of people suffering unnecessarily with all types of arthritis. I’ve healed my patients, I’ve healed myself and now I want to help you and your loved ones.

And, I am grateful to everyone who took my survey. If you didn’t take it, and you want me to know what’s important to you about arthritis, there’s still time.  Take The Survey Now 

Honestly, if you do any one thing right now, join my FREE Arthritis Summit. I have interviewed the TOP EXPERTS in arthritis, gut health, nutrition and mind-body medicine, including Amy Myers, MD, Aviva Romm, MD, David Perlmutter, MD, James Gordon, MD, and Jeffrey Bland, MD. I learned so much about arthritis in these interviews and you will too! –> Join For FREE Now

Posted on

Improve Your Sleep and Improve Your Life

A good night of sleep – seems like the simplest thing, yes? Almost a right  – shouldn’t everyone sleep like a baby?

While this appears to be true, we know that even babies don’t always sleep well. And for some, a full evening of rest is an elusive thing. According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, nearly 9 million Americans have used prescription sleep aides in the last month.1 That study also found that more women than men use them, and their use is greater in the 50 and older age group.

Sleep disorders can significantly impact one’s work and home life – and your health. Snoring and sleep apnea are the Number One medical cause of relationship and marriage break-ups. Prolonged sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.  Chronic fatigue that results from sleep issues can keep one from being at their best and contributes to poor work performance.

Is Your Sleep Disturbance Chronic or Acute?

Sleep can be disordered for a number of reasons. Some can’t fall asleep or stay asleep – this is known as insomnia. Everyone at sometime in their life will not sleep due to an acute condition – a problematic day at work, racing mind, or maybe just too much coffee close to bedtime. These times are short and self-limited. Chronic insomnia is defined as having difficulty falling asleep 3 nights a week, for 3 months or longer. Insomnia can be “co-morbid” – due to a medical condition that is known to cause sleep issues. Both psychiatric and medical conditions can cause this to happen, as can a host of medications.

So, no, it’s not all in your head, and as you well know, if you’ve ever had trouble sleeping – wishing it away won’t work. While there is no definitive test for insomnia, the diagnosis usually involves an inventory of sleep-related medical questions, a sleep log, and blood work or sleep testing. Thus, visiting a sleep professional is essential to getting the right diagnosis and proper help.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

For some, falling asleep easily is actually the sign of a sleep issue. Long-standing fatigue can make one fall asleep inappropriately – as a passenger in a car, in the theatre, or at your desk when it’s expected you will be alert and productive. In this case, the problem is poor quality sleep. It could be that you are frequently awakened by something known as “apnea.”

An apnea is a cessation or pause in the breath – the cause for this is either in the central nervous system, or because the airway is unable to stay open enough to allow you to sleep. The body reflexively awakens you when your airway closes off – a protective response that wakes us up enough to breathe. Humans of all ages have some degree of apnea during sleep – and it is usually a combination of “central” and “obstructive.” But., when it becomes excessive and sleep becomes fragmented, there is a bigger problem.

Despite common belief, you don’t have to be obese to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In fact, OSA in and of itself can lead to insulin resistance and cause or promote obesity. OSA occurs in up to 10% of children of various weights and sizes and is the most common sleep disorder in children. We often observe that if we get children to breathe better at night, they gain weight, become more productive at school, and behavior and learning issues sometimes disappear.

There are definitive tests for apnea. While going to a sleep lab was once the gold-standard way to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, most insurance companies now prefer in home sleep testing. A doctor who is familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of sleep can easily order such testing. It has to be interpreted by a sleep specialist, and recommendations are made how best to get treated. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is one way to treat obstructive apnea, and continues to be recommended for the most severe cases. But there are an array of other treatments, which the doctor will discuss with you when reviewing the results.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself, Your Child or Loved One Sleep Better

Try to get enough of sleep every night The American Sleep Foundation recommends at least 7 hours of sleep nightly.

Establish a consistent bedtime and stick to it The body does respond to a circadian rhythm that once broken is difficult to re-establish. That is as true of shift workers as it is of children. Try to go to sleep and awaken at about the same time every day. 

Exercise consistently, but not close to bedtime — Exercise is important for sleep as it decreases arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms all of which are beneficial for sleeping. There is also a drop in body temperature after exercise – which helps you get sleepy.  Vigorous activity too close to bedtime will cause arousal, though, so make sure you have a gap of at least a few hours between activity and lights out.

Maintain good sleep hygiene – Limit screen time close to bedtime and give your body a period of time to wind down. Also don’t pick up your mobile or turn on your computer should you awaken in the middle of the night. This is not the time for catching up on your emails! Make sure your little ones don’t take their iPads and cellphones to bed. Make their rooms a sleep-only zone, so that homework and other activities occur outside of the sleeping space.

Be sure to have a comfortable bed and sleep position — Don’t expect your body to adapt to the wrong mattress and pillow. This will only worsen aberrant musculoskeletal feedback to the central nervous system – and make your sleep less restful.

Supplements for Better Sleep

In addition to the behavioral techniques, there are herbal remedies and supplements that can naturally help you get better sleep. It’s hard to know which one your body will respond to, and we recommend trying each one for 2-3 weeks before giving up and moving on to the next one.

Magnesium – This is one of the most important minerals for your sleep, muscle relaxation and mental health. Clinical studies have shown that magnesium improves insomnia, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset. Can be taken by mouth, put into a warm bath (Epsom Salts), or rubbed on the skin as a cream or oil.  We recommend an absorbable form of magnesium, like magnesium glycinate, instead of magnesium citrate which can cause loose stool (and in fact is used to treat constipation).

Melatonin – This hormone is produced by your body in response to light to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin can also help reflux – a condition that often occurs alongside obstructive sleep apnea. It should be used in small amounts, starting with 1 mg and perhaps increasing to 2, then 3 mg over a few weeks if you don’t feel it’s helping.  Take it about an hour prior to bedtime.

Valerian –This amino acid increases the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. As such, it does what prescribed sleep aids like Xanax and Valium do – only without the associated risks. We love blends of valerian, passionflower and lemon balm, all combined. At Blum Center we use Myocalm PM.

L-Theanine – Well known as an anxiolytic, L-Theanine not only helps produce a state of calm, but has been shown to aid overall sleep quality.

Live in our area and want to sleep better? Join Dr. Gereau and special guest Dr. Brad Gilden for their FREE community talk, Sleep: The Essential Pathway to Optimum Health on Monday, September 25th at 7pm. The discussion and demonstration will include sleep position, posture, the importance of nasal breathing and stress management. You will walk away with 7 strategies to improve your sleep immediately. Join Us! Sign Up 

Meet Dr. Gereau: Sezelle Gereau, MD, is an integrative ENT/Allergist with more than 20 years of experience. She uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as sleep apnea, headaches, allergies and chronic sinusitis.

The Blum Center is teaming up with Elite Health Services to provide patients suffering from sleep disturbances with a natural and holistic solution to improving breathing and sleep-related problems. Elite Health Services located in Greenwich and Westport CT provides hands on manual physical therapy to improve postural and mechanical limitations that may be depriving you of a restful night sleep. Elite’s team of physical therapists and performance specialists are at the forefront of collaborating with your medical team to solve your sleep dilemma.  

 

 

Reference: 

NCHS Data Brief. 2013 Aug;(127):1-8.

Posted on

Conventional Medicine Gets the Autoimmune Wrong

Here’s a common scenario in my practice:  A patient comes in with a prior diagnosis of autoimmune disease. Sometimes it is a new diagnosis, and the patient is worried about how to proceed. Sometimes it is a longstanding illness they have lived with for much of their life. In most cases, they are looking for help where the conventional approach to autoimmunity has failed them.

There are many different types of autoimmune disease. All have in common the curious fact that the person’s immune system has become misdirected. The immune system is meant to provide protection against infection and foreign invaders to the body – like bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. When one has autoimmune activity, it means that the person’s own body is under attack.  

Falling under the umbrella of autoimmune disease is a variety of ailments, which vary widely in prevalence, symptomatology and severity. Some autoimmune diseases are very common, like Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. Others are rare, like Scleroderma. Some attack a single part of the body, like Hashimoto’s, while others, like lupus, can be more systemic, attacking multiple organ systems. Other examples of autoimmune disease are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Grave’s disease, Type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and alopecia.

The Typical Conventional Response to Autoimmune Disease

Patients routinely describe that their physician — be it primary care or specialist — has diagnosed a condition or worse, a disease. Sometimes the patient is already on prescribed medications as treatment, but other times they are not.

Invariably, what they have been told is that there is nothing to be done:

  • “We will wait and see.”  
  • “You will probably need to be on medication at some point.”
  • “Let’s continue to watch your blood testing yearly and wait and see when symptoms develop.”  

Few, if any of these doctors, offer advice on how to potentially keep the disease from progressing. Or, if already in the throes of symptomatic disease, offer suggestions how to lessen the symptoms with anything but anti-inflammatory medications, replacement hormones or immune-modulating drugs.

This is a very serious problem, and a failing of conventional medicine. It’s exactly why I chose to continue my training with the Institute for Functional Medicine.

A Functional vs Conventional Approach to Autoimmune Disease

Let’s take the case of early autoimmune thyroid disease:

With Hashimoto’s, for instance, the patient will often be told that they have autoantibodies – which means there are immune markers in the bloodstream directed not against invaders, like bacteria or viruses, but actively attacking the body’s own tissues of the thyroid or its receptors. This is the basis of autoimmune thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, which often leads to low functioning thyroid and the need to take thyroid hormone medication.  

The conventional doctor will let the patient know that these antibodies are there, and that most likely the thyroid will begin to malfunction, causing too little hormone to be released into the blood and causing the symptoms of hypothyroidism – low energy, weight gain, constipation, dry skin …  When that occurs, treatment with thyroid hormone replacement will begin.  

This leaves many people wondering – what can I do now?  Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?  Am I going down a road I can’t switch out of?  

How can one reverse the damage – or halt the progression of the autoimmune disease ravaging the body?

The Functional Medicine Approach

I like to think of a Functional Medicine approach to treatment as two-fold:

  • Doing everything we can to improve the immune system’s ability to rebalance while …
  • Lessening the odds of the immune system continuing to rebel — and, quite possibly, beginning another attack on another system in the body — which could then lead to another autoimmune disease.

How do we do this? First, we work to support whatever system or systems in the body are under attack – replacing nutrients or hormones that are lacking due to the autoimmunity. We frequently use B-complex, D3 and multivitamin supplementation; and, of course, hormone replacement, as needed in hypothyroidism.

Then, we work to build resilience and decrease inflammation in the body by using good old detective work to find the root cause, or triggers, of the immune dysfunction, and treat that. We look at food, stress, gut health, toxin exposure and infections.

5 Steps to Decrease Inflammation & Rebalance Your Immune System

  • Practice improving your emotional and physical response to stress. Getting good sleep and exercising is imperative. Mindfulness meditation and other mind/body techniques are helpful for reducing stress hormones.
  • Experiment with your food – discover sensitivities, triggers, and intolerances. We usually recommend an allergy elimination diet – taking out gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs, along with other common allergens depending on your specific medical condition- for a short time and reintroducing to see if symptoms are affected by food.
  • Support your microbiome and heal your leaky gut.  Eat healthy whole foods and lots of vegetables and fiber. Start taking a probiotic. Our go-to is Dr. Blum’s formula, created for our patients. Learn More
  • Decrease your exposure to toxins and improve your body’s ability to manage exposures. Watch out for common toxins in food (herbicides and pesticides), cleaning supplies, and even in personal care products.  We recommend looking at the Environmental Working Group and following their suggestions for cleaning up toxins in the home.

    If you are concerned about the toxin build-up in your body, you might want to consider our 21-Day Simply Detox. It’s the exact program we use with our patients at the Blum Center for Health. Learn More
  • Be assessed with functional testing for nutritional needs and to rule out any chronic or acute infectious disease processes.  We will often request stool testing for microbial balance, in depth blood testing for nutritional needs, and more extensive saliva and urine testing for hormone balance.

If you live near the New York City metro area, come see me, or one of my colleagues. We would be happy to help. People travel from all over the world to work with us. Come join our family!

If traveling to us is not possible, you can work with our Director of Nutrition or Health Coach by phone or Skype. Call 914-652-7800 for more information.

Or, you can also find a functional medicine practitioner through the search feature on the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

Posted on

How to Use Genetic Testing to Improve Your Health

My great-grandmother Greig, her son (my grandfather), and my father all had diabetes. Both my father and his father were diagnosed with it in their 40s. Being the whole-hearted, fun-loving Texans that they were, they smoked for at least 20+ years, drank bourbon and beer, and ate barbecue brisket on a regular basis. My grandfather put 2 teaspoons of sugar in his coffee and my dad couldn’t pass up dessert.

I, on the other hand, quit smoking right after college, was a vegetarian for about 20 years, and my favorite drink was hot water with lemon with an occasional glass of wine. I’m two decades beyond 40 now and my blood sugar has never been even borderline high.

Is it my genes, just my luck, or is it my lifestyle?  

Genetic Expression: Nature and Nurture

Most chronic human health conditions have multiple genes that contribute to the condition, so this often means there are a number of ways to intervene to change how that condition will show up in any particular individual. Lifestyle changes can have big effects on our genes as my family example shows. Change your lifestyle, change your genes! Or at least change your genetic expression.

How genes are expressed—in other words, how they show up in your biochemistry, which translates, ultimately, in how you look and feel—is affected by food, stress, meditation, toxins and other environmental factors. This change in gene expression can be temporary or permanent and, in some cases, can even be passed on to your children, not as a change to the gene, but as a change in gene expression.  

What this means is that you can change your genetic destiny by changing your inner and outer environment.

Genetic Testing Is Here!

The exciting news: The future of medicine has arrived! You can find out what genes may be affecting your destiny through genetic testing. Genetic testing can help to direct you to the more significant changes you can make to have an effect on how your genes turn on or off.

Genetic testing, particularly online, direct-to-consumer testing, is on the rise, but the hype can also lead to confusion and misinformation. There are lots of benefits to genetic testing and some downsides, so it’s good to think it through before you leap in.

What Genetics Testing Tells You

The job or our most important and powerful genes is to code for making proteins in the body which then build body tissues and organs and control our chemistry. There are somewhere between 19,000 and 21,000 of these genes in humans. When you get genetic testing done, you may get an overwhelming amount of information, so it’s good to know what you’re looking for so you can be selective in what you get.  

For instance, you may or may not want to know you have the gene that increases your risk for Alzheimer’s by 40% when it’s not yet clear what you can do to avoid developing Alzheimer’s. Some people like to know, though, so they can plan ahead or start doing all the fabulous things in life they were putting off until retirement. It depends on your personality and your approach to life.

To get your raw genetic data, you can do home genetic testing to get your full genome from companies like 23andMe.com. They will give also you an analysis of where your ancestors came from and for an additional fee they will tell you your risk for developing a variety of genetically linked illnesses and conditions.   

How We Use Genetic Testing

Here at Blum Center, one of the ways we use genetic testing is to have you upload your raw genetic data into a website called Genetic Genie.  They will then give you a genetic Detox Profile and Methylation Analysis — these are the genetic backbones of your ability to detoxify your inner environment, as well as create some of your brain neurotransmitters and the body’s most powerful antioxidant glutathione. These profiles can sometimes provide very useful insight into why you get sick when you are around chemicals smells or why you seem to be overly sensitive to medications. We have found these to be especially useful in people with a lot of environmental chemical and pesticide exposures (e.g., golf courses, soccer fields, horse barns, living next to I-95) who just can’t see any improvement with their chronic health condition.

Do you want to know more about your genes and changing their genetic expression? If you live in our area consider making an appointment at Blum Center with either me, Elizabeth Greig, or our Director of Nutrition, Mary Gocke. Both of us have experience making lifestyle recommendations after looking at the Genetic Genie profiles.  Are you ready for a change? Call to set up your appointment today at 914-652-7800.

Meet Elizabeth: In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.

 

Posted on

How Chasteberry Supports Women’s Health

Vitex agnus-castus, also known as Chaste Tree or Chasteberry is a powerhouse herb in women’s health. Indigenous to Central Asia and the Mediterranean, it has been used for thousands of years for menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, breast tenderness, infertility, and more. The Latin root: agnus castus means “chaste lamb” purportedly alluding to the ancient culinary use of Vitex (also “monk’s berry”) to curb libido in monks!   

Historical uses aside, what we DO know about Vitex is that it contains glycosides, flavonoids, essential oils, essential fatty acids (oleic and linolenic). It works at the level of the brain to decrease prolactin levels, increase progesterone levels, and bind opiate receptors — which might be how it improves anxiety, food cravings, physical discomfort associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Vitex is approved by the German Commission E for use in menstrual cycle irregularities, premenstrual disturbances, and mastodynia (breast pain).

3 Reasons To Consider Taking Chasteberry

Do you have PMS?

There are multiple studies that validate chaste tree for gynecological problems including PMS. One well-designed study of 170 women compared Vitex to a placebo pill during three consecutive menstrual cycles and women who got the herb reported 52% improvement in symptoms compared to just 24% in the placebo group. Specific symptoms looked at in this study were irritability, mood changes, anger, headaches, breast fullness, bloating and ALL had significant differences between Vitex and placebo pills1.  

Heavy Bleeding

Many women suffer from heavy bleeding during their periods.  This can be especially true for women who have a copper containing intrauterine device (IUD). One prospective study of 84 women looked at Vitex compared to mefenamic acid (an anti-inflammatory medicine) to reduce heavy bleeding in IUD users over the course of 4 menstrual cycles. Researchers found that women in both groups had significant improvement in symptoms, 52% in the anti-inflammatory group and 46% in the Vitex group2. I look forward to seeing additional studies with more subjects and that include a placebo group to fully understand the role for Vitex.

Irregular Periods

Many women have irregular periods and are often prescribed progesterone to help regulate their period, either in the form of birth control pills or sometimes progesterone alone.  Since we know that Vitex increases one’s one progesterone production, it makes sense that we would use it to help regulate an irregular period. Additionally, chaste tree works by decreasing prolactin, which for some women is the culprit in causing too few periods. I always lean towards supporting your body’s ability to make its own hormones over prescribing additional ones, especially if the ones we give are synthetic progestins. After all, synthetic progestins (the type of progesterone in birth control pills) can cause side effects such as weight gain, bloating, acne, moodiness, hair loss: not what you are looking for when suffering already from period problems!

Chasteberry and Infertility: A Word of Warning

Some people take Vitex for infertility due to irregular periods since it increases progesterone. Adding progesterone during infertility treatments is quite common. The studies on Vitex for infertility are mixed, leaving us without firm conclusion that it will help you get pregnant. While historical use supports this approach, there is no safety data on Chaste tree during pregnancy or lactation. For these reasons, I do not recommend starting it specifically for fertility and I DO recommend stopping the herb if you become pregnant.  

How to Take Chasteberry

Chasteberry does take time to see full impact, so stick with it for at least three months before deciding if it is working for you.The dose is usually 200-500 mg a day of dried fruit or 20-40mg/d of extract standardized to agnuside or casticin. At Blum Center for Health, we use Chasteberry Plus, at the dose of 1 tablet in the morning and 1 in the evening, with or without food.  Because Chasteberry has an impact on your body’s hormone production, it is wise to avoid if you have a hormone sensitive cancer, are pregnant, or are nursing. It could potentially impact hormonal birth control. It could interfere with dopamine-related medicines, such as some medicines used in Parkinson’s and some antipsychotic medicines. Side effects are not common but include GI upset, headaches, fatigue, increase in menses, hair loss. Rarely women with a history of depression may see a worsening of their symptoms.  Before starting herbal remedies, if you are taking other medications or have any hormone related health issues, remember to always check with your doctor, or come and see me at Blum Center.

Live in our neighborhood and want to learn more about using herbs for women’s health? Make an appointment with Dr. Fitz!  In her practice at Blum Center for Health she takes a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address, diagnosis and treat your condition. For more information, call 914-652-7800.

Meet Dr. Fitz:  Bronwyn Fitz, M.D. is a board certified Obstetrician Gynecologist who is fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. In her practice she melds traditional medicine with non-Western approaches, nutrition, botanicals, mind/body therapies and lifestyle interventions to help women address their gynecological and reproductive health concerns. Her interest in mindfulness and meditation led her to pursue a two-year Fellowship at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, under the leadership of world-renowned Integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil.

 

References:

  1. Schellenberg R BMJ. 2001 Jan 20;322(7279):134-7.
  2. 2. Yavarikia P, Shahnazi M, Hadavand Mirzaie S, Javadzadeh Y, Lutfi R. J Caring Sci. 2013 Aug 31;2(3):245-54.