Sunday, November 30, 2008

Choosing Hippocrates Health Institute for a Healing Journey

I am an impatient soul by nature. When I got the diagnosis of autoimmune disease (Sjogren's), which likely stems from a "leaky gut," I wanted to take action, right away. After all, my precious vision was at stake.

I did some research, and at Teri's prodding, I looked seriously at the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. I remembered my friend, Gino Giglio, speaking highly of Hippocrates, so I was curious.

I went online and saw a testimonial from a woman whose unhealed broken bones finally healed after a standard 3-week raw foods and green juices program at the Institute. All the data overload from my research on many programs ended in that moment. With my own fractured ankle not healing (the doctor reading my third x-ray wanted me to go to an orthopedic surgeon and get assessed for a pin).

So, I wanted to learn more about this Institute with more than 50 years of track record in healing people. Alas, I didn't have the easiest time getting to someone who could quote me rates and availability. I called and waited for 2 weeks. I sent an email to their website and got no response. I was seriously looking at another "wheat grass farm" in Austin, Texas, and decided to give Hippocrates another shot.

I left messages on a Saturday, itchy as I was to make a decision and get flights booked, given the holiday season coming up. I left specific instructions about how long I would be at my home number and the need to call me on my cell phone if we somehow missed (I gave a 5-hour window during which I sat close to the phone expecting to hear from someone who could just tell me availability and rates).

No luck. The Hippocrates rep called my home number and left a message and we stepped into an annoying game of phone tag. I decided I didn't like her voice. Petty, I know, but I was frustrated. I finally gave one more try, asking to speak to a manager. Quickly, I was in the same phone tag game. Sigh.

Monday morning, I finally got to talk to someone from Hippocrates, and she sealed the deal. I signed up on that call. When I told friends that I was going on a 3-week healing retreat, they asked whether I was excited. No, I felt more of a sense of curious anticipation than excitement, as Hippocrates is not exactly a recreational spa environment. It caters to people with serious diseases, many of whom have gotten the word from their doctors to get their affairs in order because they are "terminal."

I arrived last Sunday, so I've gotten through the first week, which included two days of fasting on green juices (Wednesdays are fasting days, but I fasted on Friday as well). Everyone says the first week is the hardest, as shifting to all raw vegetarian foods is a major detoxification event for the body.

My energy is returning and I'm ready to start sharing what I've been learning, which is plenty. November 2008 is a turning point for me in how I see food, food combination, and the need for everyone to regularly detoxify in systematic ways.

By the way, I got an x-ray of my fractured ankle the day before I left for the Hippocrates program, and happily, it had started to heal finally, 3 months after I fractured it in August. I attribute this to my getting off eggs and almonds along with wheat and dairy, which allowed my intestines to start to heal from the allergen assaults and start to take in the mega nutrients I was taking.

The doctors who had taken the first three x-rays over a 2 month period and wanted me to get a pin were surprised yet visibly delighted. I don't think my sharing about allergies and diet changes made any impact, but I was more than happy to head out on my trip with permission to start running again!

At long last, I expect to be back on the tennis courts when I finish the Hippocrates program (yeah!).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Allergy Gremlins: Eggs, Almonds & Dust Mites!

At last, my allergy panels came in. The results were actually pretty good, with a couple of notable surprises.

I knew wheat and gluten would pop positive up on the food allergy panel. No surprise that they did. Interestingly, spelt, which I rarely eat, was more positive than even the whole wheat.

As I've mentioned before, I have those Irish genes that are so prone to gluten sensitivities. What many do not know is that Italy has an even higher prevalence of celiac disease than Ireland (perhaps because of the volume of gluten in their pasta-rich diet).

What surprised me were the US BioTek Standard Food Panel charts that had significant hits on eggs, particularly egg whites, almonds, and lima beans. I had eaten eggs for breakfast and grabbed a handful of almonds for a snack. Alas, when your system becomes sensitive, anything you eat can become an allergen.

So, for the next 6 months, I will be avoiding eggs and almonds along with wheat and dairy. Oh yeah, lima beans and cranberry, weirdly, popped up as important foods to avoid, but since I don't eat lima beans that often, that will be easy. Regarding the cranberries, I will just switch to pomegranate juice, which is all the rage as a non-alcoholic/non-caffeinated drink that brings similar antioxidant benefits to red wine and black tea.

The other little allergy gremlin for me to avoid? Dust mites. Egad, when you read about these little critters, it's enough to make you get rid of all your pillows and want to buy plastic casings for your mattress and get rid of all carpets.

Did you know that 10% of the weight of a 2-year old pillow is comprised of dust mites and their droppings. Eeeeew! I'm getting rid of my old pillows and cranking the washing cycle on bedding to "hot."

Maybe my little cat, Diva, will experience an easing up of her asthma in the process!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Put Your DNA in the Right Environment

I'm always interested in integrated approaches, whether applied to medicine, relationships or the environment.

I was browsing the most September/October edition of Alternative Therapies this afternoon and the following quote from Dr. Bethany Hays of True North, a functional medicine and healing arts center in Maine caught my eye:

"I believe that if your DNA is not expressing the human being that you really wish you could be, you've got to put your DNA in a different environment."

Dr. Hays, an obstetrician originally, is now committed to functional medicine, which is variously known as complementary, integrative, or natural medicine. Dr. Hays believes that when a patient does not like the way their body is functioning, it's time to start exploring what part of the patient's environment needs to change:
  • The physical environment of the air your breathe and water you drink
  • The nutritional environment, which includes the bacteria in your system
  • The inter-cellular environment where cells pass information and nutrients back and forth
  • The psychosocial/spiritual environment.
In the article, Dr. Hays went on to say:

"What we learned from the human genome project is that your life isn't written in your genes. It's written in the interaction between your genes and the environment. I can't change your genes, but I can help you change the environment if you're willing to make the changes."

Dr. Hays is a pretty smart doc, as she knows that patients are coming to a doctor to get the biochemistry--the lab tests that describe what's going on in their bodies. I just did that and wrote about it (scroll down to see my journey with lab testing of late). Dr. Hays gets her patients engaged in the education process long enough to help teach them to change the environment that they're putting their DNA in.

If you live up in the Northeast, you may want to check out True North and Dr. Hays. If you want to read the rest of the article, take a look. She has some interesting things to say about hormone replacement therapy and how hot flashes in perimenopausal women are likely to be more related to adrenaline or noaradrenaline and the adrenals and only secondarily to estrogen and the ovaries.

Dr. Hays makes the case Dr. Rodier makes all the time about cellular communication, namely that, in the example of hot flashes, all the little hormones talk to each other and are in relationship with one another and if you don't get the relationships, you can mess up Mother Nature's system rather rapidly with unwanted side effects.

The Brain That Changes Itself

Neuroplasticity -- it's the term scientists use to describe how the brain changes itself through experience. Thinking, learning, and taking new actions all change the brain's physical structure, organization, and capacity -- all the way into old age. Cool, eh?

Dr. Norman Doidge, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University, wrote The Brain That Changes Itself and according to an article in The Times of London:

"Doidge argues that the discovery that thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains--even into old age--is the most important breakthrough in neuroscience in 400 years. His collection of case histories is inspiring: people who have had strokes and been declared incurable have been helped to recover, learning disorders have been cured, IQs raised, obsessions and traumas overcome, and there are 80-year-olds whose memories have been restored to the function of people 20 years younger."

We've been running a Mindfulness & Health tele-series with Pam Weiss, an Insight Meditation teacher, and Pam spent time on a recent call talking about how meditation and mindfulness help change the brain through an ongoing practice of concentration. My mom has started to be a bit forgetful and she is in the course (and enjoying it), so the topic of neuroplasticity has been on my mind of late.

Dr. Doidge believes that brain exercises are often more effective than medication, connecting brain re-wiring to the building of new muscles in areas that are weak. He has seen kids diagnosed with ADD who are helped through learning sessions designed to increase connections between nerve cells. According to Doidge, connections between two cells might double from 1300 connections to 2600 connections with one learning session. The analogy to lifting weights is often made.

Particularly interesting is the notion that thoughts can turn genes on or off. Yikes...any of us dealing with health issues of undetermined nature may need to turn even more intensively to mindfulness activities-whether in the form of traditional meditation or learning a new game or profession, as highly-focused attention creates positive changes to the brain.

I came across a company, Advanced Brain Technologies, based out here in Utah, that offers learning programs for improving memory, listening, attention, and even sensory processing skills. The have music programs and also a Brain Builder program, which might be worth checking out if you're worried about your own memory or brain health.

Hmm. I could get the "kat" to do an interview with the CEO of Advanced Brain Technologies if enough of you are interested. Let me know!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Leaky Gut? How Can it Be?

I have some pretty good suspicions about what I should not eat. After 5 months of feeling less than vibrant, I have taken most of the usual suspects out of my diet: gluten, dairy, caffeine (sigh), chocolate (sigh), and refined sugars and carbohydrates. Okay, so far, so good, right?

Not exactly. I decided to have some allergy panels run (blood tests, which are more accurate than skin tests), including 96 common foods and an array of enviornmental or "inhalant" allergens. I will get my results next week, along with some tests on my hormone levels (the diagnosis of "adrenal burnout" is in play).

I've mostly enjoyed good health and a strong immune system, but a switch flipped this summer and I was suddenly allergic to weeds and who knows what in terms of foods. The whole topic of nutragenomics is all about the relationship between diet and genes, how the wrong diet can actually turn genes on and a reformed diet can turn errant genes off.

I was rolling the dice every time I had gluten products (bread, semolina pasta, pizza, etc., etc.). I knew it, as I sneezed every time I ate these things. Sure, I had the rice bread, rice pasta, and rice crust pizza in my house, but we, until recently, ate out a lot, and I resented being the lone spartan (ah, yes, I'll have three sides of vegetables) at a table of hedonists.

Not now. I always remember my friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier, saying that some patients simply weren't "suffering enough" to stick to his dietary recommendations. I guess I hit that point this summer. As strange symptoms started to crop up and the diagnostic path pointed to a leaky gut, resentment was replaced with re-committing myself to a gluten-free (and dairy and refined sugar and caffeine free) diet.

It was incredibly confronting. Me?! Leaky gut? My dry eyes (ocular rosacea, potentially Sjogren's) was related to a leaky gut? But, but, but....I couldn't believe as I wasn't eating junk food and I was supplementing with excellent nutrients. What was the deal?! In a word, stress and overwork had changed my body's chemistry (evil little chemicals come out during stress, especially bad when stress is prolonged). Sensitivity to gluten had flipped over to outright intolerance, creating cellular TOIL in my gut that no amount of supplementation could counteract alone.

When cells become toxic, oxidized, inflamed, or lacking in energy from nutrients, then the membrane of the intestines starts to leak as cells become more rigid and less able to connect with each other. The supplementary nutrition I took over the summer wasn't taking so well because stress had activated my fighting Irish blood genes that like to do unnecessary battle with gluten proteins.

With a leaky gut, my friendly bacteria had no place to colonize effectively, and calcium absorption was being minimized, affecting the healing of my fractured ankle. If the immune system is fighting undigested food molecules that leak from the gut into the blood stream, voila, there's a battle with the perceived antigens.

Drat. Human after all. Foiled by this thing called having a sensitive system and required to pay more attention--or else.

In retrospect, my family history is clearly rife with intestinal problems. At 18, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, but it turned out to be nothing more than a long-ruptured appendix, or so we thought back then. At the time, I was getting into health, eliminating dairy and refined foods, focusing on more vegetables, etc. and so I probably averted an early onset of GI problems.

My older brother, Jim, loved his Winchell's donuts, Coke, and junk food of all kinds. Under stress, when he was in "nuke school" (he was training to be an electronic technician for nuclear submarines), my brother fell ill and was diagnosed with, you guessed it, Crohn's disease.

Sadly, Jim never reformed his diet and died from a bad blood transfusion during a bowel surgery. Recently, Jim's son, Brandon (a handsome lad and excellent salsa dancer, by the way), who went through officer training at the Naval Academy, was, coincidentally, diagnosed with Crohn's disease.

And, as many of you know, my father died of a leaky gut (the doctors wondered about Crohn's and celiac and all sorts of diagnoses, but they all had to do with a bad gut). My dad ignored his symptoms for years, recovering briefly under Dr. Rodier's care, but returning to a junk food diet and a stress-filled life and dying of wasting and malnutrition, as his body could not absorb nutrients properly.

I'm grateful for all the resources and knowledge I have. Otherwise, I might be pursuing pharmaceutical interventions for my dry eyes (permanent prescription of antibiotics which play dreadful havoc on digestion not to mention making your skin ultra sensitive and vulnerable even during short periods of sun exposure). Otherwise, I might be on a fast track to end up like my dad.

Lab Tests - Round One

Long time, no writing. It's not for lack of topics, but I promised to do an update on my own status and I just haven't been motivated.

I got my first round of lab tests back on September 16th and was told, "I don't usually see results this good, with one exception, that is." I'll get to the exception later, but first the good news.

My cholesterol was good at a total of 173--with 56 points of the healthy or HDL variety and 96 of the unfriendly LDL variety. My cholesterol/HDL ratio was 3.1, which is also good, as it should be under 5.0.

C-Reactive Protein, or c-RP, a measure of systemic inflammation, was less than 0.1 mg/dl. Again, this is good as levels should be less than 1.8 mg/dl.

My triglycerides were 104, another good score, since you want to be under 150 for these bad boys.

I had lots of nods re good liver and kidney function results. My vitamin D was at 51 pg/ml, which is high on the reference range (15-60 pg/ml), but still considered too low to avoid chronic disease. My friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier, recommends aiming for at least 80 pg/ml to reduce disease potential, including allergies. His advice? Boost my D3 to at least 2000 IU per day and think about going up to 10,000 IU of D3 daily (that's what Dr. Rodier himself takes).

The exception to my good news was that my body puts out too much insulin to address high sugar loading. I did the 2-hour fasting glucose test, whereby you fast, get a blood test, then go have a super high sugar lunch and return for a second blood test. I don't tend to go for big sugary meals, so I didn't enjoy that test and did feel lousy after sugar loading. I was asked about my relationship with sugar and blood sugar swings. I talked about being hypoglycemic in college.

The assessment? Situationally, I am pre-diabetic, meaning under stress and less than ideal diets, I can lean toward diabetic. Since I'm usually pretty careful with my diet, that tendency is not always so obvious.

The advice? Watch carbs and sugar (which I mostly do and am more careful now) and also take alpha lipoic acid at 600mg per day and cinnamon at a teaspoon a day.

If you follow any of this advice, take the alpha lipoic acid with a meal as 600mg is a lot of acid on an empty stomach, especially if you have a sensitive stomach.

Further recommendations for me? Boost my omega-3s to at least 2 grams daily (I am taking 3 grams) as they are critical to cellular membrane health in the eyes (germane to my problem with dry eyes) and add resveratrol (also good for preserving and enhancing vision), and introduce DHEA at 10mg per day for adrenal support.

If you follow the link to DHEA at our company, please note that our DHEA is 25mg (designed more for men and post-menopausal women). This means I'll be chopping our DHEA pills in half and leaving crumbs behind, just like the asthma pill we have to chop up and give to our small (7 pound) cat, Diva.

Regarding the resveratrol, we'll have this in stock by the New Year in a formula called Immune Health (the new formula will also have beta glucans, n-acetyl-cysteine, quercetin, elderberry, and green tea).

So, for round one of testing, my results were pretty good. The problem is that I haven't felt as robustly well as my test results would lead one to believe.