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Dr. Emily Chan ND has been awarded as a top Naturopathy practice with some of San Diego's best Naturopaths. Verified by Opencare.com
Monday
Oct032016

GUT-BRAIN Connection. Can My Gut Affect My Brain?

I had a teacher see me for memory issues and fatigue. She had a very difficult time:

  • focusing
  • remembering new information
  • making decisions 
  • staying on top of her tasks
  • experienced brain fog and extreme tiredness. 

Her brain symptoms and difficulty concentrating were so severe that she needed her partner to help her fill out the health history form. She is relatively too young for age related dementia, so what was causing this?

Photo Credit Taylor Maley

Well it turns out this patient also has some digestive problems that new research shows can contribute to the brain symptoms. John Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology conducts research about how the Enteric Nervous System is key to the Gut and Brain relationship. This connection was important to my patient’s recovery. So what is the enteric nervous system? 

The brain is controlled by two nervous systems, one is controlled by your brain (CNS Central Nervous System), the other is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) which works separate from the brain. Think of it as a thin 100 million nerve cell network that coats your entire GI tract and sends “walkie-talkie” messages, commanding the GI tract to secrete enzymes, digest food, interact with microbes in the gut etc. What happens in the gut is then reported to the CNS (brain). So both the ENS (gut-brain) and CNS (brain-brain) talk to each other. 

I’ve observed patients with GI problems often have more issues with mood, such as anxiety, stress and depression. I’ve also seen patient’s who often report that stress or emotions will worsen their GI problems.

So is it the chicken or the egg? BOTH.

The good news is that research is backing up the gut-brain relationship. Signals from a patients gut with GI issues are more inflammatory than those who are healthy. This explains how inflammatory chemicals can alter their brain chemistry. 

A Harvard Medical School article links stress with increased perception of pain. On the flip side, the article also links patients with GI disorders with increased perception of pain. So perhaps both these issues alter the ENS (gut-brain) and CNS (brain-brain) causing disregulation in pain perception both emotionally as well as physically.

There are two things that you can do at home that can calm down your ENS (Enteric Nervous System): 

  • Deep Belly Breathing (tells mechanoreceptors in diaphragm to communicate with vagus nerve to calm your stomach and stress down)
  • Applying gentle heat to the belly (tells temperature receptors to relax muscles in the gut, if you feel like it is all tensed up in a knott).  

In my practice, I use advanced techniques that help to put the nervous system back in balance, like adjusting the dials on the stereo to the correct volume. These work deeply to release an old body memory stored out of compensation from a previous stressor (physical or emotional) and are specific to re-wiring your nervous system set points. You'll know you need re-setting especially if you've felt, "I was feeling fine until...".

My patient stopped her marathon 2 hr naps, was able to prepare her lessons as a teacher and said she had a much clearer mind after working together on healing her gut. If you are suffering from GI symptoms or Brain issues, please contact me and I would be happy to help you, or point you in the right direction. Stay tuned for Part II of the Gut-Brain connection in a few weeks. 

Wednesday
Sep072016

I Feel Bloated Even After Drinking a Sip of Water

Why do I bloat within minutes of drinking water?

Why do I bloat after eating a bite of food, before the food even reaches the gut?

These are questions some of my patients have asked. So what triggers the bloating? It turns out when mechanoreceptors (pressure receptors) in the gut are triggered; the nervous system sends a message to the intestines via the Vagus nerve. The message can change the peristalsis (contraction) of the colon creating bloating or a full feeling. Photo Credit Robert McDonald

Secondly, a problematic communication in the nervous system can mess up the water exchange in the colon, resulting in a fluid bloat. Lastly, the nervous system talks back and forth with the bacteria in our colon. A stressed nervous system induces the bacteria in your gut to produce methane, giving off gas (gas bloat/flatulence). 

If the receptors (sensors) are too sensitive, even a small amount of pressure from water can trigger the mechanoreceptors. There are other receptors also, that can detect food sensitivities. When an allergic food touches the mouth, a signal is triggered before the food ever reaches the intestines. This is why there is a reaction before the water or food ever reaches the gut. 

So what causes receptors to be too sensitive? When the nervous system is too sensitive, it generally indicates a favoring of the sympathetic (STRESS) nervous system over the parasympathetic (RELAX) nervous system, which is not helpful to the situation. The body can be locked into a permanent fight and flight response (STRESS). Some people are aware of being in a prolonged fight and flight response, some do not know any different because it’s been dysfunctional for so long. 

Stressors increase the machinery in the body that makes you feel bloated. What exactly is a stressor? Some stressors can be PHYSICAL; such as infection, poor diet, lack of rest, overwork, and chronic illness. Some stressors can be EMOTIONAL, such as worry, overthinking, being in a rush, strained relationships, financial stress, not feeling safe, and negative thoughts. 

If you’ve already tried different diets for you GI symptoms and still feel bloated, a solution that is often overlooked are treatments that are geared towards balancing the set point of the nervous system. The nervous system controls many functions of the GI tract via the enteric nerves and the vagus nerve. Depending on your specific situation, I may use chinese herbs, supplements, IL-10 modulating products, homeopathic remedies that balance the nervous system in addition to NET (neuro emotional technique). Addressing the nervous system has helped many of my patients who have felt stuck and frustrated with their gut, and allowed them to stop feeling bloated even after drinking a small amount of water and relieved IBS or other GI problems.

 

Friday
Apr082016

3 Hidden Toxins that Could Harm Your Health

Clean Living! I remember the feeling after taking a few days to really take care of myself. Such as having a few servings of home made vegetable juice, home made bone broths, fresh fruits and vegetables. I make sure to do yoga which brings my nervous system into the calm parasympathetic state, and maybe get a message to drain my lymphatic system. To top it off, dipping my feet into the ocean filled with negative charged ions that neutralize the electromagnetic frequencies of the positively charged ions from computers, cell phones, and our own oxidative stress is so refreshing. Can you imagine the feeling of energy, lightness, clarity and being clean that comes with a lower toxic level in your body?

Today lets talk about 3 toxins you may be exposed to on a daily basis that you may want to avoid. 

1. Xeno-estrogens. Did you know that synthetic estrogens are linked with increased cancer risk, or symptoms or hormonal inflammation such as PMS, hot flashes, endometriosis, fibroids and even headaches? Xeno-estrogens can be found in plastics such as plastic bags used to store food, plastic food containers, plastic wrap, and water bottles. Use glass instead. 

2. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors. This means they mimic and disrupt hormones causing hormonal imbalances. They are linked to birth defects and increased insulin resistance according to some studies. Unfortunately Phthalates are found in 95% of our population because of easy exposure through plastics, cosmetic products, perfumes and fragrances, hairspray etc. Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 or 7, they are likely to contain Phthalates. 

3. Acrylamides are used in many industrial processes, but also found in foods. Acrylamides are carcinogenic and associated with increased risk of breast cancer. They are also associated with neurological damage in workers exposed to this chemical. Acrylamides are found in foods that are cooked above 250 degrees F and with charred meats from grilling (the blackened meats). Potato chips, and frech fries, foods heated at high temperatures contain higher levels of acrylamides. 

My perspective on toxins is to be educated but not fearful. There are many toxins in our world that we are exposed to that are in-evitable. If you are aware and can use substitutes that is wise. I've also seen patients who are fearful of so many foods, chemicals and everything around them, that the stress of the perception that their environment is unsafe, raises their cortisol and fight and flight response, leading to more inflammation, hormonal disruption, allergies, auto-immune diseases and illness. So balance is key. If your friend is serving you BBQ on the grill, it's once in a while with the acrylamides and won't kill you. But you may want avoid using plastic containers for your lunch everyday, and maybe the synthetically colored lipsticks. 

 

 

Monday
Oct122015

Worried Sick?

Is my Stress Normal?Photo Credit Bernard Goldbach

Or has our society collectively acquired a new norm of a stressful behavior? The underlying omnipresent knowledge of our “to do list” can vampire the enjoyment out of the very moments we are working on that “to do list” or trying to relax. Our bodies get tired and we just want to relax, but feel guilty to when there is so much unfinished. What will people think of me? Am I irresponsible? Am I a bad person? Maybe as long as I stay busy and “Do” I actually momentarily get some relief from self judgment. 

Deeper than Anxiety

Energetically Anxiety is fear of making an incorrect decision or mistake. This causes the person not to move in any direction, which in turn makes them feel stuck and trapped in their circumstances (which they may have created themselves from fear of making decisions). This may also manifest in the tendency to over research to find answers, feeling confused with conflicting information, and not making a quick decision to action. This keeps you longer in your unfavorable circumstance. 

Anxiety is also related to fear of abandonment, which can manifest in feeling a need to “Do” something, in order to keep other people happy and therefore “like you” and not abandon you. There’s a sense anxious people feel, that their world is not safe, so worrying is somehow a twisted way to make them feel temporary relief. Why is that? 

How does the Brain Interpret Reward?

Feel a low level of guilt or shame over small things in life? For some, it’s the guilt or shame that you feel, that gets interpreted as stress. We have a reward center in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This part of the brain regulates how we feel pleasure associated with reward for a behavior. If you got rewarded with food when you finished your homework as a kid, you may link food to reward as an adult, perhaps over eating to emotionally feel good. If you got punished when you did not do homework, that punishment also registers in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center. This is why people oddly get addicted to guilt, shame, or punishing themselves. This may be why it’s so hard to break the cycle of worrying and just let go. 

How does Stress Make you Sick?

In a journal published by the Immunology Allergy Clinic of North America Titled “Stress and Allergics Diseases”, it is estimated that over 75% physician visits in America are stress related. Stress increases susceptibility to infections, autoimmune disease, allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease, and negatively affects the outcome to cancer and aging. Studies show that maternal stress while pregnant increases the child’s risk to developing asthma and allergies.

Stress impacts the immune system by increasing the secretion of cortisol and catecholamines. The stress hormones increase stimulation of TH2 type T cells, increasing the production of IL-4, IL-10 and IL-13, which favors an allergic inflammatory response. Cortisol unfortunately suppresses TH1 type T cells and thus IL-12 which is important for natural killer cell function, which decreases susceptibility to viral infections and cancer. 

Stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases the release of Substance P (SP) which is related to pain and inflammation. Stress also increases the release of Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP). VIP increases vasodilation, secretion of water (which may increase edema, bloating, or diarrhea), and smooth muscle relaxation (may increase GERD symptoms). According to the British Journal of Medicine, increased VIP and VIP nerve receptors are associated with some inflammatory bowel disease. 

Stress definitely can make you sick, and takes away your enjoyment of life. Stay tuned and I will share some strategies to help you overcome stress in the next newsletter. In the mean time, remember the good things in life and laugh a little. 

Tuesday
Sep082015

Problems Focusing and Lack of Motivation

Do you have a huge, to do list in front of you and feel no motivation when you think, or look at that list? It would certainly feel so good to get things done, but yet, you feel tired, unfocused and not sure where to start. Then the guilt builds up, and you feel bad you are so behind. You think, “What is wrong with me?” Is this a motivation issue, or a health issue? It can be both, but we will discuss how balancing the physical body can improve concentration, clarity of mind and mood today, which will make it easier for you to feel motivated. Photo Credit Maxime Mc Duff Flickr

I’ll talk about 3 common causes of brain fog and difficulty focusing that I have seen in my practice. I’ve helped patients with ADHD, who did not do well with medication, use natural methods and heal. Many of my patients then function normally after I work with them, with no more traces of ADHD behavior. Some patients do not have ADHD but feel that they have difficulty with their memory, slower mental performance, or even difficulty making decisions. These patients were happy to find out that Candida, Food Allergies, or Heavy Metal Toxicity was causing these symptoms. 

Heavy Metal Toxicity:

Lead can be found in old paints, old water pipes, children’s toys from China, and contaminated soil. Inorganic mercury from dental amalgam fillings, vaccine preservatives, and organic mercury in fish such as tuna and swordfish are sources of mercury toxicity. Aluminum can be found in foil wrap, aluminum cookware including many non-stick pans, some medications (used as fillers), deodorants, certain water bottles and canned foods. Many of these heavy metals are neurotoxins and some have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and some mood disorders. Because most people have slow, small dose exposures to these heavy metals, most blood tests from your doctor will not show that you have elevated levels of these toxins. Heavy metals are attracted to fatty tissue, so they tend to get stored deep in your cells, in the brain or nervous system tissue where fat content is high, therefore being especially toxic to the brain and difficult to test for. I use some other testing methods that can detect smaller amounts that are hidden in the body. 

Candida:

Candida is a type of yeast, which is present in the intestinal tract as normal flora, but often overgrows and causes health problems such as brain fog, difficulty making decisions, anxiety, depression, problems focusing, and moodiness. Other tell tail signs that you may have an overgrowth of yeast include bloating, gas, genital itching, toe nail fungus, itching under the breasts or in the groin area, vaginal yeast infections, oily skin or scalp, dandruff, and poor digestion. Often when patients use anti-fungal medication over and over again, they yeast just grows back because the body is in a state of imbalance, which serves as a great environment for the yeast to propagate. In Chinese medicine, a state of damp heat often is associated with candida problems. Some homeopathic remedies are very effective at breaking the cycle to Candida overgrowth. If candida is the cause to your difficulty focusing and moodiness, it is definitely worth to address it now. I use the probiotic, Ultra Flora Acute Care by Metagenics, because it has a few strains of probiotics such as S. boulardii that is specific against candida. 

Food Allergies:

Most people associate food allergies to anaphylactic reactions such as swelling of the throat, lips, or face. However many people have much more subtle reactions to foods, including brain fog, fatigue, sleepiness, irritability, anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms, or heart palpitations. If your pulse rate increases by 8-10 points per minute after eating, it is likely you ate something you had a food sensitivity to. 

Have you experienced eating and then feeling very sleepy right after? Besides a blood sugar crash, you may actually have a food allergy or sensitivity. The problem with continuously eating foods that your body is reacting to is that it triggers the body to be in a low grade state of inflammation which slowly damages your organs and can be related to allergies, asthma, auto-immune diseases where your body attacks itself when it is mistakenly trying to attack the epitopes of the foods. Some children with ADHD have been completely cured by avoiding their food allergens, which is a huge relief to parents. 

Again, there are many causes to each disease or symptom, so it is very important for a qualified doctor who understands how the body works holistically in order to identify what the problem is. Below is a video I’ve filmed discussing the various types of food allergy and sensitivity tests, and why most of the tests you get at the doctors office may not be accurate for food sensitivities. Click below to watch.

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