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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
Sunday
Jul282013

Your Doctor is Human Too! What to do if your To Do List is Overwhelming.

After a full week of work, I had planned to get a few things done this weekend, mostly big projects. One of them was smaller. I wanted to write an article for you all. As I started thinking of all the things I needed to do, more and more etched on my mental to do list. I started to feel less and less motivated to do any of these things on the list, and ended up going to the gym, washing my car, cleaning the house and giving myself a French pedicure. When I looked at the clock on Saturday evening, it was already 7pm. The whole day was almost gone and I hadn’t done a thing on my to do list. I became more and more overwhelmed, but later decided to give myself permission to take the night off and relax. I listened to music, connected with God and did some reading.

So this is what I read from The Bond by Lynne McTaggart. I discovered that my to do list was so large; it was incomprehensible by my brain. Dr Rizzolatti a neurologist was studying movement and cognitive function at Italy’s University of Parma. He hooked monkeys up to devices that measured their brain waves. His team had the monkeys copy the human actions. To his surprise, the part of the brain that should light up when the monkey itself performs the action lit up prematurely when the researcher was performing the action, and the monkey was watching. “The very same neuron in the monkey’s brain that fired when it intended to grasp the object was also firing when the monkey observed the researcher grasping it”. That part of the brain is the ventral premotor cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for formulating and carrying out intentions.

When it comes to intentions, the brain’s copycats were pretty specific. If the monkey was able to comprehend what the researcher was doing, such as placing a banana in his mouth, the neurons would fire. But if the monkey observed an action that it didn’t recognize or could not relate to, the neurons would not fire.

To apply this principle to life, if what I visualize in my head is incomprehensible, then it would be more difficult to carry out the action. I realized some of the intentions on my to do list were large projects that were vague, with steps within the project that I did not have down. There were many of those on Saturday that just clogged my brain into a freeze.

I made things more familiar and comprehensible for myself the next day, Sunday. I decided to take my laptop to a café by the beach and write this blog article. This was one thing to do in one location and I promised myself I would not leave the café until this one thing was completed. And I can tell you I felt really good after writing this. One step at a time is what it all takes!

A tip for you is to break down tasks into small steps. For example, if you are planning your child’s summer camp, this task can seem overwhelming. But if you break down the list with separate items consisting of: web searching different camps, blocking off family vacation times, choosing available dates, calling your baby sitter for availability for pick up on the days you are unavailable, narrowing down to 2 choices, discussing with your child and giving them a choice between the 2 camps etc, all these steps can be done in one day, or a few days, and you are still checking off, one at a time, 6 separate things you need to get to the end goal of having summer camp arranged. And you will feel much happier doing it. This way of braking things down will be less stressful because this makes tasks more comprehensible by your brain. Whether you are copying someone else like the monkey, or formulating intensions in your head, the best way to get something done is to be sure you can relate and comprehend it, and that it gives you a sense of connection. Stay tuned, I’ll write about human connection next time.

I also want to mention that sometimes feeling unproductive can also be due to: physical fatigue, lack of nutrients for focus in the brain, anxiety, depression, unhealthy beliefs or in-congruency between your real wants and your projects. Schedule your appointment now to discuss this further with Dr. Chan.

Sunday
May052013

Dance of the Brain

The least understood yet containing the most complex choreography of the entire body is the brain. Yet this system does not contain one thing that the rest of the body has, pain receptors. When our peripheral body gets hurt, injured, infected or inflamed, we feel pain. But what happens when the brain is inflamed? How does it let us know? You do not get a headache. Headaches are usually due to inflammation in the vasculature in the head, but not inflammation in the brain. The brain does not feel physical pain. The way the brain gets our attention when enough inflammation has caused a disruption in it's seamless dance is manifested as anxiety, depression, foggy brain, memory loss, ADHD to name a few.

 

This is not to say that inflammation is the only cause of the maladies above. However, I've seen improvement in many of the conditions above when we give the brain nutrients needed to decrease oxidative damage to the neurological system. Did you know that certain nutrients such as folate, taurine, B12, tryptophan, DHA, N-acetyl Cystein, Magnesium are part of the members of the cast necessary to get the show produced?

For example tryptophan, an amino acid, (many amino acids chained together make up proteins) is needed to produce serotonin, the molecule supposedly deficient in depression. Certain patients are so nutritionally deficient in their diets that they do not have the cast members to run the happiness show in their brains. This often happens in those whos diets consists mostly of carbohydrates and sugars. I've seen many patients moods improve when they  increase their protein intake.

My friend's daughter has been having some behavioral issues that were worse when she ate foods she was sensitive to. Her mother, who was a physician, could tell every time her daughter "cheated" on her diet at a friend’s house, because she behaved differently when she ate certain foods. Probably the foods she ate which she was sensitive to caused enough inflammation to affect her brain. Her mother, who was a motivated doctor decided to supplement her with 5-methyl-tetro-hydro-folate, a more bioavailable form of folic acid and anti-oxidant. Given the extra anti-oxidant support, her daughter no longer reacted with detectable behavioral changes even if she "cheated" a bit on her food sensitivities. Therefore, correcting certain nutrient deficiencies can often increase functionality of the brain even in the presence of triggers.

Since the brain is so complex, we may want to dissect the problem to get more specifics, like running a football game on slow replay. The body is more complicated than what we see with our eyes at times, so a serotonin deficiency is not always the cause to depression. When we run a neurotransmitter test, we may find that low dopamine, or excessive glutamate, cortisol, epinephrine may also play a role in depression. Consequently how we address the problem differs from person to person and is more specific than giving an SSRI for every depressed patient.

Last but not least and closest to my heart is the mind body connection. The mind and body are constantly interfaced by signals connecting the two, sharing incoming and outgoing signals, that then affects what happens on stage. We can imagine the tangible as the stage, such as how our mood or body feels. The backstage is the brain. What happens backstage can affect the performances on stage, but also what happens on stage can affect the dynamics backstage later, that can then again affect what happens on stage during the next act.

I've personally witnessed blowing the cranial bones out of alignment so profoundly from emotions, that the chiropractor asked, "are you sure you did not hit your head?". It sounds so absurd that emotional states can change structure. But then in turn, structure that is not aligned makes it much more difficult for the body or brain to maintain balanced functions. So is it the chicken or the egg?

I've been offering craniosacral therapy to patients, and many have found profound physical benefits as well as leaps in personal growth. I look at craniosacral therapy as a bridge between mental knowledge, such as what can be found with psychotherapy, and physical health, such as what can be adjusted with nutritional supplements. Craniosacral therapy integrates the two, making both therapies more synergistic. It also balances the nervous system connected to survival and instincts that may make it more easy for us to do what we know is a beneficial choice, through breaking unnecessary survival instincts from the past that are no longer needed in the present. I am excited to embark on this journey with you, so you can dance more freely in your body and mind.

 
Friday
Mar152013

What is the Difference Between a Food Allergy, Food Sensitivity and Food Intolerance? And What are the Best Tests?

Many of my patients ask me about food allergies and what the best tests are. I thought I'd write an article to clarify. There has been a sharp rise in food allergies and I've noticed many urban restaurants now have gluten free options. Servers will often ask a party if there are any food allergies before taking orders. More people are much more conscious of food sensitivities. In fact, there are studies showing links between food sensitivities and difficulty losing weight, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. Some patients achieve some type of relief by avoiding certain foods.

However, I've seen patients who are so sensitive that the list of foods they can tolerate is so small, that their quality of life does not seem so fun. I feel it is important to identify food sensitivities and avoid them for a period of time to allow the body to calm down. I do not feel that it is optimal for a person to be permanently "allergic" to say 50% of all foods tested. This often means that there may be intestinal permeability issues that allow too much exposure of food antigens to the immune system. In these cases, it is very important to also work on improving intestinal health as well as immune modulation in addition to working with food allergies.

More information on food allergies, sensitivities, intolerances and testing options are below.

Food Allergies:

IgE Food allergies occur when the immune system makes antibodies to foods. This is a very specific reaction like a lock and key. If the antibodies made are IgE antibodies, the reaction is usually immediate. These reactions can be immediate fatigue, immediate hyperactivity, swollen lips, abdominal discomfort and respiratory symptoms. An IgE mediated reaction is what we classically call a food allergy. Usually anaphylactic reactions fall into this category.

If the antibodies produced are predominantly IgG antibodies, the reaction is often delayed sometimes 24-48 hours after eating the offending food, making it more difficult to pinpoint a correlation. Sometimes the symptoms that show up may be subtler, such as poor concentration, chronic respiratory symptoms, chronic behavioral issues, and frequent illness.  These non-distinct reactions make it difficult for people to realize that they have a food allergy but knowledge of this can be very helpful. For example, people with chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases, chronic pain and inflammation, allergies, asthma, headaches, itching and fatigue tend to have underlying food allergies.

Food Intolerances:

Food intolerances occur when the body lacks enzymes to digest a certain type of food. A classic example of an intolerance is lactose intolerance, where an individual lacks the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Thus people with lactose intolerance usually will have symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea or fatigue when consuming milk products. A lactose intolerant individual may also have an allergy to milk in addition to the intolerance. People who have an intolerance often feel better by avoiding the food, but in mild cases can consume the food with a digestive enzyme given to help the body break down the food.

Food Sensitivities

This is a non-specific immune response to food. For example, white blood cells may swell, change morphology, or rupture in response to exposure offending agent. This is not an allergy because an antibody is not produced. These reactions are often harder to identify and may be an underlying problem contributing to weight problems, chronic disease, behavioral issues to name a few. These types of sensitivities often show up with an ALCAT testing when a skin prick test or RAST test is negative. 

Testing:

Skin prick allergy tests usually measure IgE antibodies. They are very good for detecting environmental allergens and some food allergies that tend to be more severe such as peanut allergies. Skin prick tests are generally not good tests to test for foods because they often show false negative results. A RAST test is a blood IgE test that may be more accurate for foods than a skin test.

IgG blood tests give some additional insight and show allergies that are subtler and delayed. These reactions still trigger an inflammatory response that is usually not as acute or obvious. But this chronic low-grade inflammation can be enough to release enough inflammatory chemicals that can cause more oxidative damage to the body.

The gold standard for finding problematic foods is the elimination challenge test. Patients restricted to 4 non-allergenic foods for 2 weeks, then re-introduced one food at a time and monitored for reactions. Data shows this is more accurate than any of the laboratory tests. However, this is often difficult to do and very labor intensive.

ALCAT Laboratories offers a blood test that measure the change in size of white blood cells when exposed to certain foods, thus measuring the immune reaction to the food, rather than anti-bodies. The immune system can react to what it perceives as an intruder without making antibodies. This test is personally my favorite test and seems to be much more clinically relevant than the RAST test. A study done at the Department of Pediatrics in Pavia Italy showed that patients with gastrointestinal symptoms who tested negative for allergies (skin prick, and RAST), when following the ALCAT food elimination had improvements in their symptoms. ALCAT tests picked up what some of the other tests did not. Another study showed that patients who were unable to lose weight on a low calorie diet, who followed the diet plans according to their individualized ALCAT tests observed significant decrease in body weight according to the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine. Lastly according to the Medical School of Cape Town Africa, ALCAT testis high a high degree of reproducibility.

Some doctors such as myself will also use kinesiology or muscle testing in addition to the blood tests. I sometimes find that muscle testing gives more accurate results than any one of these blood tests used alone, and I postulate that muscle testing combines all types of reactions the body has to the food, as we attempt to energetically get information from the body.

According to Dr. Mark Hyman MD, these are symptoms to look for if you suspect a reaction to certain foods. Many of these symptoms are generally not thought of in relation to a food, but can be a tell tail sign that there may be some benefit to finding out if you have any food sensitivities or intolerances. Many of these symptoms are vague and may be associated with other medical conditions as well, so consult your health care provider. 

Brain fog

Cough

Pain

Depression

Headache

Fatigue

Anxiety

Sleep problems

Changes in skin (acne, eczema, rash)

Anger

Joint/Muscle aches

Changes in digestion or bowel function

Hyperactivity

Respiratory congestion

Difficulty remembering things

 

 

Wednesday
Jan232013

Things You May Not Know About Immunity

Many of you may be worried about getting the flu or struggling with fighting illness after illness this season. Boston declared a state of health emergency earlier this January stating that there have been 700 cases of influenza compared to 70 last year at this time in Boston. The CDC estimates about 200,000 Americans get hospitalized per year for complications related to the flu; this is 0.06% of our 314 million population. Even though these numbers seem high for the flu, also be aware of the following statistics for adverse reactions from prescription drugs. According to the Institute for Safe Medical Practices May 2012 an estimate of 4 million people in the US suffered injuries associated with prescription drug therapy. 179,855 cases were reported to the FDA in 2011 of serious, disabling or fatal prescription drug events.

We want to do what we can to strengthen the immune system, but do not let fear overtake decisions for your health. Many Americans have been pressured to get the flu vaccine, and this has been made stronger by the media's creation of fear in the public. According to the Cochrane Review 2010 (Review of 50 articles and 36 clinical trials), healthy individuals may be discouraged to get the flu vaccine. http://www.ahrp.org/cms/content/view/876/84/. The report states that in the case when the vaccine strain is well matched with that year's actual influenza viruses, that 1% of vaccinated people develop flu symptoms and 4% of unvaccinated people develop flu symptoms. This is not a very large difference. The flu vaccine does not seem to decrease complications from the flu or reduce its spread. The decision to vaccinate is personal and can depend on other factors. Know that keeping your own immune system strong is an alternate form of protection. Below are some considerations for you to muse over on how some food choices can affect the immune system.

Sugar: Have you even wondered about the correlation between sugar and getting sick? Think about the increased pediatrician visits for infectious illness after Halloween candy. Have you also wondered if perhaps all the holiday sweets contribute to tendencies to getting sick during the wintertime, among other factors? According to a study at the Loma Linda University, research subjects were given 100g of sugar (equivalent to 1L of soda). They drew the blood of the subjects and tested their blood for the ability to phagocytize bacteria. The blood of subjects who had the sugar, was less effective at destroying the bacteria than those who did not just have the sugar. This study showed that sugar eating did not decrease the number of neutrophils but decreased their responsiveness. Dr. Sears MD says that having about 8 tbsp of sugar can reduce the white blood cells ability to kill germs starting 30 mintues after to about 5 hours later by 40%.

Nutrition: Adequate nutrition is essential for a properly functioning immune system. Amino acids are building blocks needed for immune cells which are found in protein, not carbohydrates. Getting infectious diseases are often associated with an underactive immune system. Allergies are often associated with an overactive immune system. Dr. Leo Galland MD says, "It is important to understand that these two conditions (infection and allergy) often occur together. The problem is not usually that the immune system as a whole is too strong or too weak, rather, it is disorganized." He goes on to say that craving for sweets is often a sign of general nutritional deficiency. So load up with your proteins, vegetables and fruits, which contain vitamins and minerals, good fats such as EFAs, nuts, seeds, olive oil etc. and you will not crave the sugar, which lowers the immune system.

 Wheat: When discussing about allergies associated with infections, it is important to understand that many people have silent food sensitivities that evoke an "allergic like" response in the body. They create vague symptoms such as fatigue, gas, bloating, sleepiness after eating, headaches, brain fog etc, that do not manifest like a traditional hayfever allergic response or anaphylaxis. When there is a "silent food sensitivity/allergy" there is a higher correlation with susceptibility to infections as discussed above.

If I had to pick one food to watch that will positively affect a decrease in susceptibility to infection, I would decrease the consumption of wheat. Anecdotally, it seems that wheat in other European countries do not have as many adverse affects as the wheat in America. I wonder if it is because of the heavy genetic modification, the irradiation of wheat seeds with chemicals, gamma rays and X-rays that is more prevalent here? (See PMID 16143119 Natural variation in toxicity of wheat: potential for selection of nontoxic varieties for celiac disease patients. Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands). According to the Mayo clinic, a wheat allergy is different than celiac disease. Many people may have a wheat allergy, but not celiac disease.

A study at the Bartholin Institute in Demark 2012 showed that gluten, a protein found in wheat increased a type of T cell associated with auto-immunity. A diet that contained gluten decreased gamma delta T cells. Gamma delta T cells have complex functions but are often thought of as the "first line of defense". There is much more research on the effects of wheat and autoimmunity compared to wheat and infectious disease susceptibility, however again the two have a common thread of immune dysregulation. And I see clinical benefit with my patients in reduction of wheat associated with reduced susceptibility to infection.

I work with patients who may want natural alternatives to anti-biotics for chronic sinus infections, or those who seem to catch cold after cold for example. Decreasing wheat and sugar have profound effects alone, and in some cases patients have a more profound response with some additional nutritional supplements that support their immune system based on their individual constitution.

This is not to say that all wheat and sugar needs to be avoided for a healthy individual. But there is a difference between someone who eats cereal, pastries, coffee and desert all day compared to another person who consumes lots of fruits, vegetables, protein and nutrient packed foods and then enjoys an occasional creme brulee. Lastly, get the rest you need, stay hydrated, and remember to smile. Have an awesome start to the New Year!

Monday
Oct292012

The Vis Medicatrix Naturae

What is the Vis Medicatrix Naturae?

This is Latin for the Healing Power of Nature and one of the naturopathic principles. When going through the healing process, one must trust that the body has an innate ability to heal. What we choose as an avenue to heal, whether it be diet, exercise, counseling, nutritional supplements, body work etc are used with a goal to support the healing power of nature which we will call “the Vis”. Someone with a stronger Vis will be able to recover with much more ease than someone with less Vis, given the same condition. But this does not mean that someone with a weaker Vis cannot build that up. This is one of the goals of naturopathic medicine.

The Vis is not just a physical life force, or strength. It is also emotional and spiritual. All aspects of life are tied in together. One leading cause of stress is not doing what aligns with one’s inner values. This discrepancy can cause one to feel internal tension. This situation can lower one’s Vis and make it more difficult to have the motivation to live a happy and healthy life. Success is doing what one believes in.

How do you measure or quantify it?

The bio-impedance analysis test BIA, which we run in our office is a way to partially quantify the Vis. Since it is an abstract principle, it is not something that can be completely quantified in all aspects but this test particularly quantifies more of the physical aspect of a person’s vital force.

The BIA machine measures capacitance, resistance, charge, body water etc. When a person’s cells can keep the membrane potential as negative as it should be, the cells function optimally. The machine calculates through a series of measurements something called a phase angle. The higher the phase angle, the stronger the person is, and better able to recover from illness quickly. Studies also show that the more muscle mass a cancer patient has, the higher their survival rate.

How do you influence the Vis?

There are many ways to to influence the Vis and generally this is what we go into detail with a naturopathic consultation. We find specific supplements to give your body the correct signals to heal. As we discussed above with BIA testing and the goal of creating healthy cell membranes, fish oils and vitamin D are some supplements that will achieve that.

From a mind body perspective the Vis can be enhanced by a loving relationship, healthy thoughts, discipline, healthy lifestyle etc. It can be drained out by just the opposite of the above. Sometimes freedom to do whatever one want feels good at first. However the unleashing of self to go after the type of pleasure that does not support one’s wellbeing eventually becomes binding and depletes the Vis. 

For example sometime it feels good to dwell on negative thought patterns, or to have yet another piece of sugary food after a difficult day. But if it does not align with your inner goal to be happy and healthy, then there is actually no freedom in the indulgence. True freedom is having the discipline to do what it takes to allow yourself to live the way you want to. Success is doing what you believe in. So give yourself the gift of encouraging the Vis Medicatrix Naturae within yourself and remember to give thanks for what you already have abundantly.