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6 Reasons You Always Get Sick

Ever notice how some people get sick all the time – colds, flus, stomach viruses, and so on?  Those people who seem to pick up every bug they come into contact with?

And then there are others who are always healthy and seem to never have an encounter with a germ?

Sometimes there is a simple explanation – an immune deficiency, or other genetic predisposition that leads to a less-than-robust immune system.

Or, it has to do with something else we can’t change now – such as how much time we spent outside in childhood.  A popular theory as to why some people may be more prone to illness is the hygiene hypothesis – the more bacteria and viruses you come into contact with as a kid, the “smarter” your immune system becomes.  

As for the present moment, another reason might be that you’re just coming into contact with more germs – you’re a parent of a young child, or a teacher, or working with sick people.

(By the way, if this sounds like you, you’ll want to check out Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge! It’s a group program specifically designed to help you heal your immune system. Check it out)

But if none of the above are the case, why else might you be getting sick all the time?

6 Reasons You Get Sick All the Time

      You’re too stressed out.

Studies have shown that the amount of stress hormone you are producing directly correlates your likelihood of getting a cold.

How to de-stress?

  • Sometimes, changing how you schedule your time is the best way to decrease anxiety.  Making and keeping a schedule for your busy life can be freeing – especially if you are sure to schedule in (and keep) some time just to be.
  • Meditation, too, is one of my favorite ways to lessen that stress – just 5-10 minutes of seated breathing exercises a day can bring down your stress hormones and keep those bugs from making you sick.

    You’re not getting enough sleep.

Studies show that sleeping more than 7 hours nightly is protective – and less than 5 is VERY detrimental.  I consider a goal of between 8 and 9 hours for adults best.

How to make the zzz’s happen?

  • Give yourself a bedtime ritual – and a regular bedtime.  A calming tea, a Epsom salt bath, or that 10 minute meditation sounds good to me.
  • Banish the screens 2 hours before your scheduled bedtime.  It’s not just that they are often stress-inducing (see above), but the light from our devices can be what is keeping us from our restful sleep.

    You’re not eating right.

Certain nutrients are home-runs when it comes to keeping us away from the tissue box. The big ones are Vitamins A, D, and of course, C – and Omega fatty acids (fish oil) – and the miracle mineral Zinc.

Where to find those super-nutrients?

  • Healthy, whole foods and a variety of them.  Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit.
  • Supplementation can be helpful during the cold season too. Those zinc lozenges with vitamin C can work wonders if you notice you are starting to feel run down.

    You’re not active enough.

Activity boosts the immune system. It’s well-studied that people who exercise regularly have a reduced chance of becoming ill – and that being a couch potato lowers the cells in your immune system that fight infection

How to make the move?

  • Pick activities you actually enjoy doing.  Play around with exercise until you find something you like. This will make you 100x more likely to get it done.  
  • Mix it up – variety will help you stick with a program. Walk one day, go to an exercise class another, swim another.

    You don’t wash your hands.

You have germs on your hands, and touch your face frequently, often without realizing it. The CDC recommends improved hand hygiene to avoid spreading germs – and it’s been shown over and over again to work.

How to do it?

  • Wash hands frequently throughout the day with soap and warm water.  Carry a hand lotion with you if this dries your skin.
  • If there’s nowhere to wash and you’ve been touching lots of stuff, antimicrobial are an acceptable (but imperfect) alternative.

    Your gut is a mess.   

Gut microbiota that are out of balance can lead to so many distressing things, including getting sick more often. A healthy, thriving ecology in the colon is protective against the germs looking to take up residence in our throat and lungs and sinuses.

How to rebalance the microbiome?

  • An easy (and well studied for boosting immunity) step is to just take a daily broad spectrum probiotic.
  • Eat healthy whole foods, including lots of fiber to feed the microbes, and probiotic foods like yogurt to support a robust environment.  

How We Can Help You Improve Your Immune System

Do it with Dr. Blum! Yes, that’s right! Dr. Blum’s new LIVE course, The Immune Recovery Challenge is open! The Immune Recovery Challenge is the step-by-step companion to Dr. Blum’s bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan. During the course, you will follow the 4-Step Immune System Recovery Plan together with Dr. Blum, using video and live coaching. It’s devoted to your HEALTH TRANSFORMATION! Get the Info

If you want personal one-to-one treatment, come to Blum Center for Health. People travel from around the world to meet with our practitioners. You’ll meet with your practitioner for an hour and a half, meet with our Functional Medicine Nutritionist, and receive your first treatment plan. Get More Info

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.

 

Resources:

 

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What is Leaky Gut — And What Can You Do About It?

Stomach pain from IBS

Did you know that your biggest exposure to the outside world everyday is through your mouth? That’s why 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, lying in wait to protect you from anything that seems foreign (or “antigenic”) to the body. “Antigens” include bugs, like bacteria, parasites, or viruses. And believe it or not, they are  also in the food you eat – and the toxins and microbes that ride along with the food..

Your gut, which is essentially a tube starting at your esophagus and ending at your rectum,  has barrier walls separating the inside of your body and immune system from the outside world.  When you break down and digest your food into tiny particles, the intestinal lining serves to very selectively choose what can enter your body through a variety of mechanisms, including opening and closing gates called tight junctions.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

An intestinal barrier with damaged tight junctions, that isn’t succeeding in keeping those antigens out, leads to a condition known as Leaky Gut or Increased Intestinal Permeability.  The lining of the tube is damaged, and because of that, more and larger food molecules and gut bacteria are able to pass through to the other side (your bloodstream).  This leads to immune system activation as the body is overloaded with antigens, and this in turn can lead to inflammation and a variety of system-wide conditions.

Common Causes of Leaky Gut

Causes of leaky gut vary, but the most important might be dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, also known as the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis shows up in a number of ways, for a number of reasons. It can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast, or parasites, or simply a dearth of good bacteria, or any sort of bacteria growing in the wrong place in the gut.

Dysbiosis is caused by poor dietary choices, frequent antibiotic use, use of common over-the-counter medications (like antacids or painkillers), and can even be caused by stress, and chronic constipation.  A healthy microbiome helps you by interacting with the immune system in beneficial ways, and also by turning the food you eat into compounds that heal the tight junctions between your cells, protecting the integrity of the gut lining. Balanced gut microbiota leads to a strong barrier!

Leaky gut and the Connection to Chronic Disease

Studies have increasingly found that a leaky gut is associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease (like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Rheumatoid Arthritis), allergies, and food sensitivities.  But why is it that leaky gut is associated with inflammatory diseases like arthritis? When the contents of your digestive tract, which includes gut bacteria and larger molecules of food and toxins, “leak” into your body, your immune system is activated, creating inflammatory chemicals that travel throughout your body and cause system-wide inflammation, especially in the joints. And this happens nonstop until your gut microbiome and the lining are repaired.

Leaky Gut and Nutritional Deficiencies

Leaky gut can also contribute to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals.  Ongoing inflammation can cause damage to the carrier proteins in the lining of the gut that are supposed to work to bring the good stuff into the body. The most common are iron, B12, magnesium and zinc deficiencies. These lead to all sorts of symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, rashes and muscle pains.

How to Heal Leaky Gut

The good news is that you can rebuild your microbiome and repair your gut, it just takes a little effort and sometimes some detective work. Here are five areas that deserve your attention:

  •      Food Choices: Food has the most influence on the diversity of the microbiome – and that is why we always recommend starting by changing your diet. Increasing your intake of foods high in fiber, mostly fruits and vegetables, is the simplest change we can make. These tend to increase that good bacteria that plays such a role in keeping the gut lining healthy and working. Removing foods that feed the bad bacteria is also important – so quitting – or at least decreasing the amounts of sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and bad fats will support rebalancing the microbiome.
  •      Food Sensitivities: Recognizing the foods you are sensitive to and removing those from your diet is an important way to help heal the gut lining. If the gut is constantly barraged by a particular food that is stressing the immune system, local inflammation at the gut barrier will create imbalance and lead to leaky-ness. A simple elimination diet is often the best way to determine food sensitivities. Food allergy testing can also guide us in helping you to figure out what to eat and what not to eat.
  •      Stressors: We all know that stress affects our gut. Think about it, when you don’t feel relaxed, you just don’t digest as well. Many people manifest emotional distress in their digestive tract, suffering from an uneasy stomach, loose stools or sometimes chronic constipation, bloating, cramping and food intolerance. Making sure that stress is dealt with, by looking into your habits and working to improve potential sources of stress – like lack of sleep, lack of exercise, or mood imbalance is essential. Your digestion benefits from 8+ hours of sleep nightly, a good exercise regimen that keeps you moving daily and a meditation or mindfulness practice that helps ground your mind.
  •      Toxins: Decreasing your  total body toxin exposure should be a crucial part of your gut healing strategy.  Eating well-sourced, non-gmo, organic foods as much as possible and avoiding common environmental exposures that further tax the system and damage the intestinal lining, helps decrease permeability and inflammation.
  •      Dysbiosis: Sometimes the imbalanced gut is really off.  So much so that improving diet won’t fix it completely.  In these cases, we usually use testing (stool, breath, urine) to help determine the best method of gut healing – or cleansing – with herbal preparations, medications, and probiotics.

Treatment options for leaky gut:

  •      Glutamine, an amino acid, has been shown to reverse intestinal mucosal damage from various insults.
  •      Marshmallow root and DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated licorice) extract are agents that stimulate protective mucus secretion in the gut.
  •      Probiotics are an essential part of healing the gut lining – a broad spectrum probiotic that contains lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species is recommended.  Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast, is also an important supplement to restore gut health.
  •      Fish Oil – to reduce intestinal (and systemic) inflammation.
  •      Vitamin D – at doses of 2000-5000 IU daily (get blood levels checked intermittently) supports the mucosal immune system in the gut lining.

What to do if you suspect you have Leaky Gut:

If you live in our neighborhood, make an appointment!  In my  practice at Blum Center for Health, I take a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address, diagnose, and treat your condition.  We take your health seriously and get to the root of the problem rather than simply throwing medication at it.  For more information, please call 914-652-7800.

Don’t live nearby?  A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment

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.

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3 Steps to A Healthy Blood Sugar Level

Here’s a common scenario: You see your primary-care doctor for your annual physical, and you are told your sugar is a little high, and you may even have “pre-diabetes”….and you think, wait, what?  And the news keeps on coming. Your insulin may be “a little” high as well, or your cholesterol markers show a less than perfect balance.  If the numbers are mild, you’re usually told to “eat better, lose weight, exercise”, and if the numbers are really bad, you’re told to start medication.

Without a clear understanding of what these markers mean and how these early imbalances in your sugar system can eventually become full-blown pre-diabetes and then diabetes, you might have little motivation to do the work to change them.  And while yes, lifestyle change can feel like work sometimes, you might be surprised to find that some simple changes will do the trick. Perhaps you are a little overweight, are a little stressed out, and/or you aren’t exercising much.  Addressing these things with some simple suggestions, can really make a big difference, and that’s why it’s important to take these early abnormal numbers seriously, because now is the best time to reverse the direction that you are heading in.  

My goal for our discussion today is to first make it clear that if you ignore these first subtle changes, you will likely find yourself with a bona-fide disease down the road.  But even now, the high sugar in your blood is inflammatory and damages your blood vessels and organs. This is a huge issue!  There are 84 million people currently diagnosed with pre-diabetes (and rising!) and you don’t want to end up with type 2 diabetes, which is a major contributor to heart and vascular disease —  the leading cause of death in the developed world.   

That’s why, now is the time to do something about it.

And the good news? High blood sugar, pre-diabetes and yes, even if you already have diabetes, these are all reversible!

4 Steps to Reverse Pre-diabetes

Step 1: Recognize the implications this has on your health.

The first step is to listen to your body and understand what it’s trying to tell you.

Here is what you need to know to tune into your blood sugar system:

  • Know your risk: At Blum Center for Health we generally screen everyone for early blood sugar abnormalities and diabetes using a simple blood test. I screen for insulin resistance and pre-diabetes in patients who are older (over 45), overweight, physically inactive, have family members with diabetes, gave birth to a baby over 9 pounds (or had gestational diabetes), have PCOS, and/or have other risk factors for heart disease – like high cholesterol or high blood pressure.  

 

  • Check these labs:  The list of labs includes fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and hemoglobin A1C (a measure of the average sugar in the blood over a period of time). We do advanced cholesterol testing, because higher triglycerides and lower “good” cholesterol gives clues to insulin resistance.  Sometimes we do glucose tolerance testing, where we look at the amount of sugar and insulin in the blood after drinking a sugary drink. This tells us how hard the pancreas is working to produce enough insulin to decrease sugar in the blood.

Step 2: Make impactful changes to your health.  

Here is the good news.  Catching diabetes before it manifests and treating insulin resistance is relatively straightforward, although you do have to commit to some permanent changes, which for some people can be difficult. The lifestyle changes that improve the entire spectrum of metabolic and blood sugar issues are tried and true. In fact, lifestyle changes have been shown to improve numbers in these early stages of diabetes more than medication.

Focus on these 3 lifestyle behaviors to improve your personal glucose system:

  • Diet –  Eating a higher protein, higher fat and lower simple carbohydrate diet is key.  There are many nuances to this, and we suggest working with a nutritionist or health coach to help you figure this out, because it is the quality of the protein, fat and carbohydrates that counts as much as the amounts.  Also, losing weight helps – even a 5% drop in weight (about 8 pounds for a 150 pound person) will improve insulin resistance. I refer nearly all my pre-diabetic patients to our Functional Medicine nutritionist or our Health Coach to create a personalized food plan that dovetails your individualized treatment plan. Learn More If you live far away, you can also work with our Health Coach online!  Sign up HERE.
  • Exercise – Physical activity allows muscles to use up the sugar from the blood which lowers blood glucose and improves insulin sensitivity. Just 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week will help. Brisk walking after meals recruits muscles to move glucose from the blood.
  • Sleep – Getting plenty of restful sleep is good for us in so many ways, metabolizing sugar being one of them. Disturbed sleep and sleep apnea is correlated with the spectrum of sugar dysregulation.

Step 3:  Get the support you need!

Once you begin to make changes to your daily habits, you might need support to keep you focused and in the game!  What can this look like?

  • For some people, support is letting everyone around you know what your health concerns are, and why you’ve decided to work on new food and exercise goals. Having your family, coworkers and friends on board can make it less likely for you to slip up.
  • Enlisting others to do it with you is another option that can be very satisfying for all involved.
  • For others, being mindful and collecting data about your food, activity, and sleep is what is key. Fitbits and other tracking devices, food diaries, and keeping careful logs of sugars can be very helpful for you and your doctor.  
  • Make sure you have a supportive medical team, including a doctor who is invested and spends time with you to encourage and follow your progress.  
  • One of the most powerful ways you can create positive change is by working with a Health Coach who will help you overcome obstacles and keep you focused on the prize. Learn More

Step 4: Monitor markers and observe progress.  

Keep track of your markers and notice when things change. I guarantee that if you make the changes above, to diet, movement, and rest – the numbers will move in the right direction.  If not, something else is brewing and needs our attention.

  • Tracking progress:  As I discussed above, there are many ways to track insulin sensitivity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Glucose and hemoglobin A1C are not the only biomarkers playing into this metabolic orchestra. Ask your physician to do more in-depth diabetic screening, advanced lipid testing and hormone testing. If you see a functional medicine doctor, adrenal testing can be telling, as can stool testing for a look into the gut microbiome. Further investigation into inflammatory markers, toxins, and nutrient status can also help guide overall health.

Live in the NYC metro area and want to learn more?

Join me for a community talk An In-Depth Discussion on Diabetes on Wednesday, November 15th at 7pm. Register Now! I will review how we treat these conditions from a functional medicine perspective – dietary guidelines, supplements, and medications that work.

Are you interested in meeting with 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.

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.

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3 Things You Can Do Today to Stop Arthritis Pain

Yoga can help heal arthritis

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.

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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.

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What is Dysbiosis – and What You Can Do About It

Dysbiosis is like having weeds in your gut garden

You have within you trillions of microbes – bacteria, fungi, viruses, even parasites – all living together in your gastrointestinal tract.  This lively bunch of microbes is known as your microflora. Often referred to as “The Garden Within,” your microbial garden can shift out of balance. Think about how a garden can become overgrown with weeds. When that happens, we say a person has dysbiosis.

Three Ways Dysbiosis Can Impact Your Gut

  1. Too much of the bad stuff overgrowing in the gut is the most basic imbalance.  An overabundance of “bad,” typically inflammatory, bacteria, or too much yeast (candida albicans is a particularly common and unwelcome yeast in large amounts), are two examples of overgrowth that cause dysbiosis.  An unwelcome virus or parasite can also cause overgrowth imbalance.

    To treat this type of dysbiosis we sometimes prescribe medications to kill unwanted bacteria, parasites, or yeast, but more often we use gentler, broad-spectrum anti-microbial herbs to weed the garden, improving the balance of good and bad bacteria. We also use probiotics and fiber-rich foods to encourage growth of the good while we get rid of the bad.
  2. Microbial undergrowth can be the culprit. It is rarer than the situation above, but sometimes a stool test result shows an under-abundance of all bacteria – good and otherwise.  An under-abundance indicates we need to work on improving the terrain (the gut lining) where the flora will take residence, as well as supporting the growth of the flora we want to encourage. We do this with probiotics, prebiotics, lining supportive supplements like glutamine, and healthy, bacteria-supportive foods.
  3. Your microbiome settles in the wrong place. Living microbes are wanted, but we need them to live where they belong, and not take up residence in places where they cause problems. Most frequently, this type of dysbiosis is SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). SIBO occurs when the gastrointestinal microbiome has shifted from primarily growing and thriving in the large intestines (the colon) to taking up residence in the small intestine in too great a number. This tends to cause digestive problems and bloating, but can be silent as well.  Herbs and antibiotics are our go-to for treating SIBO.

Could you have dysbiosis?

In our medical practice at Blum Center for Health, we suspect an imbalance in the flora (a dysbiosis) in anyone who complains of stomach troubles. Digestive difficulty of absolutely any kind suggests there’s something wrong with the trillions of microbes inside the gut. If you have stomach upset after eating, indigestion, the extremely common GERD (reflux), heartburn, slow digestion, or bloating, we think of dysbiosis.  If you have bowel problems, like excessive gas, lower belly pains, constipation, or diarrhea – then dysbiosis is our prime suspect too.

Dysbiosis as the Root Cause of Seemingly Unrelated Disorders

It surprises many patients that other symptoms, including those that on the surface seem to have nothing to do with the gut, also make me suspect dysbiosis.  We are becoming more and more aware the impact our microbiome has on our whole being – our whole health – and our disease processes.

When I see someone whose health concerns are not primarily digestive in nature – even those who report having a perfect digestive system – I usually investigate their microbiome, and will almost always prescribe a probiotic. Why? Because sometimes dysbiosis is silent gut-wise, while still causing trouble in other areas of your body.

Here are a few examples:

  • Hormonal imbalance – we know that certain bacteria encourage an imbalance in hormones.  
  • Autoimmune diseases show clear links to overgrowth of some bacteria.  
  • Joint aches and pains can be caused by leaky gut, which is usually a consequence of some kind of imbalance in the gastrointestinal microbiome.  
  • Neurological and psychiatric disease is being traced back to problems with our microbes.  
  • Weight loss resistance is often a consequence of over (or under) growth of the bacterial flora.  

Basically, any inflammatory process can be traced back to the gut.  

How do you know if you have dysbiosis?

How does your internal garden grow?  The tests we most often request are simple:  Stool, breath, and urine testing – all of which give us a picture of what your personal microbiome looks like.  We learn from the test results how many beneficial bacteria are growing, and how many malicious bacteria have taken up residence in your gut. We use that information to create your personalized treatment plan.

With some patients we assume dysbiosis without testing – and just get you started on the good stuff  – probiotics and healthy, fiber-rich foods.

Not sure if you have dysbiosis? Take our Assessment and find out!

How did you get this dysbiosis?

There are many reasons we harbor the microbes we do. Our developing microbiome begins at birth – it is different if we are vaginally delivered or born via c-section, for instance. Our food choices (throughout our lives) affect our microbiome, as does any antibiotics we might have taken.  Other medications, both prescription and over the counter, also affect the microbiome.

What to do if you suspect you have dysbiosis:

If you live in our neighborhood, make an appointment! In our practice at Blum Center for Health we take a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address, diagnosis and treat your condition. We take your health seriously and get to the root of the problem rather than simply throwing medication at it. For more information, call 914-652-7800.

Don’t live nearby?  A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment

 

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.

 

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Healing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Stomach pain from IBS

In my Functional Medicine practice, many people come to me with stories of terrible digestive distress, often labeled as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or “IBS. ”This diagnosis is often given to people with a wide range of functional digestive issues like GERD or reflux, heartburn, burping, bloating, feeling full, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation,  or incomplete bowel emptying. Conventional approaches to treatment usually begin with an acid blocking medication, called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), like Prilosec or Prevacid.  Many studies show these medications cause more harm than good and are not the ultimate answer.

Instead, we need to get to the root cause of these issues and this is where Functional Medicine really shines!

Here are the most common causes of digestive issues that need to be explored and treated to heal Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Once you address these, you can be cured once and for all:

  • Food sensitivities or allergies
  • Lack of appropriate digestive enzymes or stomach acid
  • Motility disorders
  • Inflammation of the gut lining
  • Imbalance of the microbial flora
  • Digestive disorders that don’t allow nutrients to be absorbed
  • Leaky gut causing systemic inflammation
  • Overgrowth of certain bacteria that are associated with systemic illness.

Using Functional Medicine To Treat IBS

  1.  Fix your food.
    This can be as simple as modifying your diet — adding gut-healthy foods and eliminating your personal food triggers are imperative to healing your gut and reducing symptoms. We always start with an elimination diet for 3 weeks, removing gluten, dairy, soy, corn and eggs, the most common triggers for IBS. Remember, this is an experiment and has 2 parts: after the 3 weeks are finished, carefully reintroduce each food, every 3 days, one at a time, and this is when you can really determine if the food is a trigger for you.
  2. Consider stool and breath testing to take a closer look at your gut microbes and digestion.
    If changing your diet doesn’t fix the problem, then we recommend further testing. We need to evaluate your gut microbes, which are the 100 trillion bacteria that live in your intestines. They need to be in balance….. after all, your microbiome is your inner garden and you want to be sure your garden is flourishing. We also need to make sure your digestion is working well.  We use functional testing to get more information, and the results help guide my treatment with herbs, supplements and probiotics to gently nudge the bacteria into a healthier state, support your digestion, and resolve your symptoms.Here are some suggestions to try on your own and get you started.
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Bitters or ginger
  • Probiotics
  • Magnesium citrate – when constipated.
  • Cleansing herbs like berberine – in cases of bacterial overgrowth.
  1. Remember, the single most important thing to do is to change your understanding of your gut.
    Let’s start to think of the gut as what it really is – a seemingly simple but actually incredibly complex tube, responsible for grabbing the necessary nutrients out of the food you eat, keeping you healthy by killing infectious disease, removing toxins from the body through the stool, supporting your immune system, and even moderating your mood by producing and affecting neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and estrogens.  The gut is important!

In our practice at Blum Center for Health we take a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address your gastrointestinal condition. We help you change your relationship to food, make necessary adjustments to exercise, sleeping and stress reduction, all things that influence motility and the health of your gut. Lifestyle changes works in unison with dietary and our medical solutions to provide lifelong relief.

Are you ready to calm your irritable bowel? A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment

 

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.

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Improve Your Mood: Bringing Light to the Winter Blues

By Darcy McConnell, MD

Wintertime can be challenging for any of us, but especially for those with a tendency to become depressed or anxious.  The shorter days and colder weather invite a kind of hibernation that affects our mood.

Many people find that during this time they can become tense, stressed, anxious, worried, and fearful. It’s also common to feel depressed, low, and unable to cope. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both.

You might just feel “off” and can’t figure out quite why … or may have been prescribed medication and are not sure if it’s the right approach.

At Blum Center for Health, we like to treat these mood imbalances with some simple and healthy changes before prescribing, if possible, or together with medication.  Our goal is to bolster resilience during stressful times.  With heightened resilience, you are better able to tolerate stressors and find balance, calm, and peace.

Some tools that we use to improve our resilience are obvious – like getting enough sleep or avoiding unhealthy foods. Others are less intuitive, but do bring good results – supplementation of certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs are shown to improve mood imbalances.

5 Ways to Improve Resilience & Maintain a Balanced, Contented Mood:

  1. Hot drinks are lovely this time of year, but instead of sugary coffee, choose a caffeine-free calming tea with non-dairy milk and honey.
  2. Take an invigorating walk outside – bundle up! Even 30 minutes of activity can increase endorphins, naturally improving mood.
  3. Make it a habit to sit at a window in the morning with your breakfast – allow the morning light to hit your retinas and balance your circadian rhythm, especially now when sunlight is in short supply.
  4. Call upon a friend or relative and catch up, either by phone or even better in person!
  5. Take a vitamin D supplement every day in the winter months – and get your D checked to make sure it’s in a good range!

 

About Dr. McConnell: Dr. Darcy 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.