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10 Ways to Influence Autoimmune Recovery

Truth #1: It is possible to reverse your autoimmune condition.

Truth #2: There is no one way to get there — everyone is unique. What works for me may not work for you. And, what works for you may not work for me. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Truth #3: There a multitude of core principles at play and finding your right mix is critical to reversing your condition. 

Truth #4: There is one key to this entire process that no one mentions. Stick with me and I will share it with you.

For the past 3 years I’ve had the privilege of working side-by-side with Dr. Susan Blum, one of the foremost authorities on autoimmunity. I work with patients at Blum Center for Health and with individuals through our CoachMe online platform, to implement the four steps of Dr. Blum’s international bestselling book, The Immune System Recovery Plan.

Two years ago we created the Immune Recovery Challenge — an online program that allows people from all over the world to learn directly from Dr. Blum in a LIVE group setting. It only happens once a year, and it’s coming up soon! Learn More

From working with hundreds and hundreds of people, I can tell you this: The Four Steps Work!

You might be wondering, “What are the four steps?”  They are: 1) Food as Medicine 2) Learning to Relax 3) Healing the Gut and 4) Supporting the Liver

Within those steps there’s a lot to learn, and it’s within those steps that things get personal. Here’s where YOU come into the equation. If you’ve been struggling with an autoimmune condition and autoimmune recovery, look at little deeper — look within the steps.

10 Ways to Influence Autoimmune Recovery

Eating the Right Foods — You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Food is Medicine.” Indeed it is! And, it can also be your poison. The first step to relieving symptoms, and getting a grip on which foods are right for you, is to do an autoimmune elimination diet. This is not only therapeutic, but it is also diagnostic. When done properly you walk away with a personalized nutrition plan.  How does this differ from person to person? Someone with an autoimmune arthritis, for example, may need to remove nightshades. Someone who is struggling with digestive distress may need to consider high lectin foods that might be exacerbating symptoms. The great news is, that once this short-term food plan is complete many people successfully reintroduce favorite foods back into their diet.

Healing your Gut — About 70% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract!  Nearly everyone who suffers with an autoimmune condition needs to heal their gut. Think of your gut as a garden with trillions of good bacteria, and includes hundreds of different species. Pretty cool, right? But when all those beautiful good bacteria get infiltrated with bad bacteria, yeast or parasites, the good bacteria get crowded out. And that, right there, can compromise the integrity of your digestive tract lining, creating minuscule breaks in the barrier where food leaks into the bloodstream. This is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Healing your gut is a CRITICAL component to healing your autoimmune condition.  And the amount of gut damage is different from one autoimmune person to another, and thus the treatment and focus will need to be different, too. 

Supporting your Liver — We live in a world filled with toxins that can trigger autoimmune disease and harm the immune system. These include pesticides/herbicides, hormones and plastics in food and water, solvents and mold in our homes and heavy metals in the fish we eat and water we drink. Others can come from cosmetics and products we use at home. At Blum Center for Health, we also believe that some relationships, home and work environments and thoughts can be toxic and have a negative impact on the body. We highly recommend detoxing at least once a year. This is another place where things get personal – your toxin exposure is going to be different than everyone else’s, and how much detox you need will be different, too. 

Taking the Right Supplements — Targeted supplements facilitate healing, reduce inflammation, heal the gut, and remove toxins. It’s important to use medical grade supplements that do not contain fillers, preservatives, additives, gluten, dairy, soy or corn. You’ve got to check labels carefully. You could very well be putting something in your body that’s contributing to your autoimmune condition!  

Learning to Relax — Stress, even low grade stress (you know, they kind we wave away, like having to make lunch everyday for your kids to take to school) fuel the fire of autoimmunity. Even good stress, like getting ready to go on vacation, can cause a flare. Many people will get on board with the food plan, and start taking the appropriate supplements, but have a hard time implementing a stress reduction process. This may very well be the most difficult part of an autoimmune program. And this is where coaching can make all the difference in the world. In a world that’s built on distraction and endless motion it can be difficult and uncomfortable to be quiet with oneself. 

Implementing Exercise When You Don’t Feel Well — Exercise is one of those “loops”— you don’t feel well so you don’t exercise (don’t worry, I feel the same) and when you don’t exercise you don’t get its anti-inflammatory benefits. Drop all the ideals you have about exercise: the person running on a treadmill, the women pushing weights at the gym, the man doing headstands in a yoga class, the people doing hardcore spin. You don’t have to go to the gym! You don’t have to run on a treadmill! You don’t have to do weights! You just have to start with moving. Start slow. Start low. Start with something you enjoy. Just start.

Getting enough Sleep — The research is clear: Lack of sleep or poor sleep impacts just about every system in your body, and increases inflammation. It increases your risk of autoimmunity and if you already have an autoimmune condition it impedes your ability to heal it. And by the way, lack of proper sleep drives sugar cravings and carb cravings, which makes it nearly impossible to stick to a healthy, anti-inflammatory food plan!

Learning to Say No — This is not scientific, but this is my observation in working with hundreds and hundreds of women: You can heal your autoimmune condition by holding your boundaries firm. No more giving away your time, no more saying yes to things that don’t serve you. Taking care of yourself means saying no. Or in other words, when you say no, you give yourself the space you need to heal. Want to read more on this subject? Check out 8 Reasons All Women Need Non-Negotiable Self-Care

Understanding Hidden Infections: Doing everything and still symptomatic? You may need additional testing. Functional medicine will help you get to the root of the problem.

AND FINALLY:  

The KEY that I promised you – CONSISTENCY:  

Yes, consistency! Taking imperfect action daily. Notice I said “imperfect.” We’re not trying to be perfect. In fact, it’s impossible to be perfect. It’s not all or nothing. When someone starts something new, they often give up. If they can’t do it “right,” they don’t do it at all. (Think New Year’s Eve resolutions. Done by February 1st!) You can be consistent. You can even learn to be consistent if it’s eluded you in the past. It’s all about figuring out your personal plan … a combination of what you need right now and the baby steps you need to get there. 

And, this is where it’s important to have a coach or a coaching program so that you’re not figuring it all out alone.

Are you ready to begin reversing your autoimmune condition? Join Dr. Blum and me for the Immune Recovery Challenge — a 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 to help you personalize it just for what you need. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn from Dr. Blum in a group setting. Join Now

 

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters.

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Let’s Talk About Sugar

A common question I ask my client’s is, “If you could change one thing to improve your health what would it be?” I get many different answers but many times I get a return question asking me what I think is the most important thing someone can do to improve their health.

My answer in short is….

R-E-M-O-V-E     S-U-G-A-R!

Why is removing sugar from your dietary plan the single most important action YOU can take to better your health?

So glad you asked!

6 Ways Sugar Ruins Your Health

Sugar …

  1. Feeds unwanted bacteria such as candida, causing an overgrowth of these bacteria resulting in oral thrush, yeast infections, skin rashes and fungus, digestive issues, food cravings, exhaustion and more…
  2. Ages your cells and Increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.  
  3. Raises your blood sugar levels. Sugar in the blood causes the secretion of the fat storage hormone, insulin, causing an increase in belly fat. This results in systemic inflammation, weight gain and an increased risk of developing diabetes.
  4. Is the top fuel for the growth of cancer cells.
  5. Weakens your immune system.
  6. Raises blood triglycerides levels increasing the risk of heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  7. And the list goes on…

This is why we created the 7-Day Sugar Detox, a FREE, easy-to-follow program designed to make sugar cravings a thing of the past. Join us and get started today! It’s FREE!  Yes, I Want Off the Sugar Roller-Coaster

Sugar is Everywhere!

Sugar exists in so many forms and carries many names. There are simple processed sugars such as fructose, corn syrup, glucose, agave, sucrose (table sugar), and dextrose. Then there are more natural sweeteners including honey, pure maple syrup, molasses, monk, date or coconut sugar.

Sugars, whether in a more natural form or highly processed, can negatively affect your health, especially in high quantities. It’s summertime, a time full of barbeques and party events where sweet treats come along with the territory. Keeping the consumption of these sugars, whether natural or highly processed, to a minimum is key!

What about Sugar Substitutes?

Another category of sweeteners that are popular with “dieters” are low-calorie sugar substitutes.

There is an abundance of artificial sweeteners on the market today. Some common names include: Aspartame (Equal or Nutrasweet) and Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), and sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol and xylitol. These substances can be found in an abundance of different foods from yogurts and salad dressings to the gum that you chew! Sugar alcohols are generally considered “safe” in small amounts when compared to artificial sweeteners but may cause some gastrointestinal upset (gas and bloating).

Artificial sweeteners are unnatural man-made chemicals that are harmful to your health and can even cause weight gain. Yes, I said weight gain! Simply said, these sweeteners tend not to satisfy the sweet addiction our bodies crave so we tend to eat more of them!

I prefer you to consider fresh fruits or organic pure Stevia instead. Stevia is an herbal plant that is 200x sweeter than sugar so you only need a little bit when you use it.

The magic question is…how much sugar should you consume?

The answer to this question becomes a complicated one. If we take a look at the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), it recommends no more than 10 percent of our daily calories come from sugar.To understand this better, the Dietary Guidelines are based off of a 2,000-calorie diet. So, in general, ten percent of 2,000 calories equals 200 calories. This equates to 50 grams of sugar, the same as saying approximately 12 teaspoons of sugar!

The guidelines go further to explain no more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women and no more than 150 calories (36 grams or 9 teaspoons) of added sugar for men.  The FDA recently added to the food label “added sugar” and recommends no more than 10 grams of added sugar per serving. Added sugar is the sugar added in the processing of the product but this does not account for the amount of sugar already in the product. To understand this more clearly, see the label below.

 

Image adapted from the FDA.org

 

Subtract the amount of added sugar from the total sugar to find the total amount of natural sugar in the product.  Example from the label above: 12-10=2 grams of naturally occurring sugar.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines address the importance of reducing sugar in the diet but the truth has it…these guidelines are still too much!

A leading expert who is known for bringing the research forward on sugar is Dr. Robert Lustig. Check out one of his you-tube videos below https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM . It’s worth the short time you invest to watch it!

The best meal plan to keep sugar intake to a minimum is a one sourced from organic whole foods! A whole foods meal plan is devoid of refined flours and sugars, and contains food that is minimally processed and exists as close to its natural state as possible. A lot less need for math and food label reading!

Include a healthy source of protein and fat at each meal or snack to promote satiety and head off cravings for sugary treats!

Follow an organic whole foods meal plan so your body can thrive! Include:

  • An abundance of phytonutrient rich produce including leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables as well as low glycemic high fiber rich fruits such as berries.
  • Pasture raised hormone free animal sources.
  • May include a small amount of whole grains such as quinoa and wild rice.
  • Quality fats such as nuts, nut and seeds and their butters and healthy oils such as avocado, coconut, olive, flax and ghee.

Are your ready to get off sugar? Join our FREE 7-Day Sugar Detox! We will help you kickstart your sugar-free life. It’s easy to follow and FREE! Get My First Action Plan Now

Keri Lynn MacElhinney, RD, CDN, CLT, IFNCP is a Functional Medicine Nutritionist at Blum Center for Health.  She has over 20 years of professional experience as a Registered Dietitian and holds a nutrition license in New York and the State of Connecticut. In her early years, her field experience covered a wide array of areas including acute care hospitals, community health centers, substance abuse.  Make an appointment with Keri Lynn at 914-652-7800.

 

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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.