Tammy, not her real name, came to me 10 months after a car accident. She was having trouble with school. She couldn’t focus for longer than 15 minutes at a time. That’s difficult when you are attending a top-ranked liberal arts university. Her medical doctors had told her rest would make everything better. There were medications that could help. She refused, not wanting to take pharmaceuticals. Her mother had found me online and made an appointment for her daughter to see me for concussion treatment. Six weeks later she was back to her regular self. School was going well, sleep had improved, anxiety disappeared, her headaches abated. Recover from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is possible without pharmaceuticals. How do you treat concussion? How do you see so much change without drugs? To understand this, it is important to explore more about TBI. What is it? What symptoms arise from it? By answering these questions we begin to get a better idea of how to treat.
Six years ago, I wrote an article about concussions and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The statistics were sobering; they still are. TBI affects millions of people every year. TBI can affects not just the brain. It can create physical, behavior, emotional, and mental problems. Many people don’t even realize that their health problems may have started with a TBI. There are many ways people get injured. The CDC estimates that there are around 3.5 million ER visits yearly due to TBI. Falls, sports-related injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and being struck in the head by an object are some of the leading causes of TBI. Some researchers believe the number may be much higher than that. There may be as much as 4 times that many TBIs than the CDC count.
What these numbers don’t tell are that many people live with the consequences of a TBI long after the event. Between 3-5 million Americans live with an impairment related to a TBI. TBI can create long term problems. Cognitive issues, including focus, concentration and memory are associated with concussion. But most of the people who come to see me don’t even recognize that there was injury such as Jessica. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, migraines, and fatigue may all start with a TBI. Most people come to me because of one of those problems, not because of a concussion.
There are other health risks associated with TBI. Not long ago, the idea of TBI or concussion was such that it had to be severe to have any long term consequences. We are learning that even a mild concussion can create long-term severe consequences. Head trauma, even from minor incidents, can cause a wide range of mental, emotional, and/or physical ailments. Dementia risk appears to be greater as well. Living with the effects of a TBI can be devastating. Shocking stories abound of how former professional football players and veterans take their own or others lives. Millions of others live with the long-term effects without any of the fanfare. They just have the struggle. I (and others) have helped people recover from TBI. And that recovery is safe, effective, inexpensive, and non-invasive.
How do you treat a concussion?
I am working on a more detailed article to describe treatment of these problems. For now let me give a brief overview. Treatment comes in two different modalities, supplementation and biofeedback. Supplementation can handle some of the symptoms and may reverse the damage. Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin B6, and Omega-3s are all helpful for post-concussion syndrome. Long-term supplementation may be able to reverse the damage of the TBI. I use supplementation with most of my patients with TBI. I may also use specific supplements to treat specific problems related to the TBI, including sleep issues or anxiety. This allows for symptom relief while unwinding the damage related to the injury.
Biofeedback though provides a more direct approach to helping TBI and treatment concussion. Neurofeedback measures the brain waves of a person and allows the brain to, in effect, see itself to recognize that there was an injury. A brain injury can result in the brain not recognizing that it has an injury. This is why I often see patients who don’t remember they had an injury but have many of the problems associated with a TBI.
Neurofeedback appears to turn back on the brain’s own repair mechanisms. Studies show that neurofeedback is effective treating TBI. And it can also be helpful for anxiety, depression, migraines, insomnia, ADHD, and other conditions.
Neurofeedback is only one treatment for TBI. New research is showing that Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training can treat TBI. HRV training is a form of biofeedback. HRV is the measurement in subtle changes in heart rate between beats. Our heart beats at a different rates from moment to moment when we are resting. HRV is an excellent health assessment tool. Some researchers suggest that HRV may be the single biggest predictor of health in a person. Our HRV tends to decrease as we get older with a large drop as one nears death.
Furthermore, HRV may be a way to calculate the progress of treatment of the TBI. HRV seems to change after a TBI. HeartMath helps reduce emotional symptoms related to TBI. HeartMath is a tool for concussions and for helping with many other conditions. HeartMath offers a home version of the device that allows patients to use on their own. I can review the data and assess their progress.
I’m excited to have another tool for treatment and assessment in my practice. If you or someone you know has had even a mild knock to the head, have them evaluated. Even if you don’t remember having a concussion but have some of the symptoms, get checked. A qualified healthcare professional can help. Neurofeedback and supplementation may be able to help the problem that you are having.
Feel free to call my office for more information.
In the last blog post, we discussed fevers and suggested there was a connection between fevers and mental health. Many factors exist connecting mental illness and fevers but today we will explore one of them. The connection between inflammation and depression is important to understand so that we can better understand how to treat depression naturally.
Depression affects almost 15 million people in the United States. Symptoms can include changes in mood, behavior, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, weight loss or weight gain. A loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed is often seen with depression. Below is a list of problems that arise and while most people don’t have all of them, many people have some items from one or more of the categories below.
Mood: apathy, being bored or discontented, guilt, hopelessness, inability to feel pleasure, loneliness, mood swings, sadness, or emotional distress
Cognitive: lack of concentration or focus, slowness in activity and thought, or thoughts of suicide
Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, self-harm, or social isolation
Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
Psychological: depression, anxiety, or repeatedly going over thoughts
Whole body: excessive hunger, fatigue, or loss of appetite
Weight: sudden weight gain or weight loss
What Causes Depression in the Brain?
Now that we have some understanding of what depression is, let’s look at some of the causes. Why is this a big problem in the US at the moment? (As a side note, depression and anxiety are extremely prevalent in many countries including England and Australia. It is believed that Australia has a rate of depression of at least 20%. For the purposes of this article, though, I want to narrow the focus for a moment. )
Let’s ignore socio-economic factors for a moment. Clearly that plays a factor in people’s mood, and I will explore that in future articles. I’m a physician, and as such, start at the physical level. I want to share my expertise of holistic medicine to help you and your loved ones if possible.
Correlations exist between obesity and depression. This connection gives us a clue as to one of the possible causes of depression. Depression may be related to a chronic inflammatory state. The result may be a low-grade fever. The process, though, could be making you feel sick and more importantly for the purposes of this article, depressed.
When we discussed fever in the last blog post, I didn’t go into the details of what a fever actually does. Fevers are a result of the inflammatory process. Fevers are generated because the immune system recognizes something that is not you. Each cell has a tag on it that lets other cells know that it belongs in the body. It’s sort of like an ID that we carry to let it be known we are citizens. We have cells called macrophages that circulate in the body trying to figure out if there is a problem. If there is one, they send out signals in the form of something called cytokines. There are many kinds of cytokines, each being a different type of signal that cells use to communicate with one another. Cytokines have different functions and one of them is to raise the body’s temperature. They also make us feel achy, tired, and slightly depressed. This is a protective mechanism so that we slow down and rest so as to not expose others. These are some of the signs of inflammation. The body uses inflammation as a way to fight disease and/or heal wounds. But the mechanism that helps the body fight disease may be responsible for all kinds of illness including depression, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, and many other conditions.
When we feel depressed, it is often because of these signals that have been turned on but haven’t been turned off. It is believed by some clinicians that depression is the first sign of many diseases because of this mechanism, and in fact that many diseases are caused by chronic inflammation.
How To Treat Depression Naturally
Understanding this one cause of depression helps us treat it. Reducing inflammation is very important as part of this treatment approach. It will also help improve other symptoms and reduce our risk of other ailments. Omega-3 fatty acids may be a very important part of reduction of low-grade inflammation causing depression. In my Naturopathic practice, I recommend 3 grams of Omega-3s to patients per day. That is to be distinguished from 3 grams of fish oil. There are other constituents in fish oil that are not omega-3s. Lower doses don’t have the same effect.
Curcumin (turmeric) is another excellent anti-inflammatory. Using turmeric in your cooking can be really helpful as well. An anti-inflammatory diet is also something that can help. Bromelain taken away from food can help reduce inflammation. It comes from papaya and helps with digestion when taken with food. Finally, I recommend testing of copper, zinc, and possibly for heavy metals if the problem persists. Often times depression arises from an imbalance in metals in the body.
There are many ways to treat depression naturally at a very low cost. I have worked with many people to help depression and get them enjoying life again. Please contact me to schedule a 15-minute consultation or to get more information.
I hadn’t felt very well for a few days but one morning I woke up and could barely move. Every muscle in my body was screaming on fire. I had a fever. About 104 degrees F. I wasn’t going anywhere that day, I felt terrible but I was excited. My cat, Hickory, came to lay on the bed with me while I sweated there. He was new to the family and looked at me as if to say, “now you get it human, hang out and relax. You don’t need to work so hard.”
My fever was so high I was not thinking clearly. I knew there was a homeopathic remedy that would help me but I couldn’t remember which one in my state. I thought of something Dr. Thom said one day in class. “An acute illness is one that you either recover from on your own or you die.” I felt as if the latter would happen at any moment.
Eventually my fever broke and I not only started feeling better, I started feeling the best I had felt in my life. It wasn’t just the juxtaposition of the illness though. I felt as if something deeper had cleared within my body and soul. I knew that something had shifted in me.
How to Stay Healthy?
Many people with a fever that high would have called the doctor, or taken something to bring the fever down. But fevers aren’t necessarily a bad thing and it seems as if the wrong lessons may have been learned about fevers. And aspirin may have had something to do with it. Let me explain.
World War I from 1914-1918 became the bloodiest conflict to that point in human history. The combination of modern technology with battle tactics from the 18th century proved to be extremely deadly and indecisive. Soldiers would charge positions with machine guns only to be slaughtered senselessly in moments. At the first Battle of the Marne, over 10,000 French and British soldiers were killed in approximately 30 minutes. During the retreat, the German soldiers didn’t even fire upon the enemy they were so sickened by the slaughter.
Needless to say, when the armistice came on November 11th there was much celebration. People would go out and see their friends and family. Soldiers started returning home too. But as the soldiers returned some carried with them influenza. People started feeling feverish and achy. Aspirin had two different names on either side of the Atlantic Ocean and two different uses. In the US it was mostly used for pain. In Europe it was used to lower fevers. The soldiers learned the fever reducing usage from being at war in Europe and told family members to take some to reduce their fever. Of course, when they did that they felt better but they were still sick. Not only that, they were still contagious. They would increase infection rates during the celebration as they were seeing people exposing them to the virus.
Now this strain of influenza was particularly virulent and probably would have killed a lot of people. At that time, however, aspirin was considered a wonder drug and the dosage rate of aspirin was extremely high. When aspirin is combined with a viral infection it can cause a very deadly side illness called Reye’s Syndrome. Many people are believed to have died from that. The aspirin was given to lower the fever but with Reye’s syndrome it doesn’t work and people can hemorrhage as a result. Of course, doctors didn’t learn that fact until many years later. They thought that the cause of death was the high fever. The lesson was that high fevers are deadly and we should lower them as quickly as possible. This was standard practice in medicine up until recently and paranoia of fevers continues to this day.
Fevers, though, allow our bodies to tune up. Fevers help the body fight off infections. The fever is caused by an immune response in the body and allows it to discover and fight invaders appropriately. Immune cells work more efficiently and make the viruses and bacteria less efficient. Our bodies clean out cells that have been taken over by viruses. The fever redistributes metals in the body so that two things happen. One, bacteria can’t feed on the metals to make themselves stronger and two, the excess metals can be eliminated by the liver. Not only does this help fight infection, it helps with mental health too as we will see in later blog posts. Fever is a good thing for the body.
Fortunately this lesson is slowly being unlearned. In fact, many medical schools are now teaching otherwise. The Yale School of Medicine recommendation for children is that you can wait out a fever up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s high! But our bodies are designed to do that although it is generally not a very comfortable experience. As I lay there that day, Hickory next to me, with the 104-degree temperature, I felt I would die at any moment. But I didn’t and I was stronger for it.
Note: As a general rule, I ask patients to call me if the fever goes over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I like to have a plan in place with them in case it spikes quickly but I’ve not had to intervene in over 10 years of practice.
How to stay healthy and fit in mind & body? That’s been a question for the ages. Why do some people get sick and others don’t? While I want to discuss mind & body, (and spiritual healing too) in this blog, I want to start with a simple example that is more relevant to most people as we head into fall and winter. How do we avoid colds and flus? If we get one, how does the body recover? Answering this question may be important to better understand the balance between mind, body, and spirit and why some people end up with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
How to Stay Healthy in Mind & Body? Or Why Do Some People Get Sick?
There are many theories proposed to answer why some people get sick. My focus has been more about mental/emotional health and most of the time that’s what I write about too. But as we’ll see in future posts, there are layers and layers of complexity to answering this question. So let’s start with why people get a cold or flu. Modern medicine believes that we get sick because of a virus or bacteria that invades and overwhelms our immune system.
Colds and flu represents the number one reason for office visits to the doctor and the cause of the most days of work missed. Buzz Aldrin is quoted as saying, “we can put a person on the moon but still can’t cure the common cold.” Science thinks they know how and why people get sick but there is still no cure, interestingly enough. The theory, as it is understood in the mainstream, is that a pathogen (either a virus or bacteria) invades the body (an outside force) to cause an infection in the body and create the disease. (For a moment, turn the clock back 500 years and replace “pathogen” with “evil spirit” and you have a disempowering model once again. As an interesting side note, many of the texts showing pictures of evil spirits look a lot like the electron microscope images of viruses. I’ll save this discussion for another article though.)
The theory is a little more complex than that although it still isn’t completely understood. It is believed that a pathogen disrupts the balance in the body somehow. See, it’s not so much about catching a cold or flu, as most of the viruses are likely living on our body much of the time. It is only when they overwhelm our system for whatever reason that there is a problem.
Without getting overly political, I describe to patients that our body is kind of like the United States. There are citizens, documented aliens, and harmful undocumented aliens. (At the time of writing this, immigration is a hot political topic so patients can relate to this analogy. I don’t generally like to discuss politics with patients). There are 30 trillion human cells in the typical human body. Each cell has a particular function and specialty. We also have countless other documented aliens – mostly bacteria – that help protect our skin, help with digestion and so forth. The last group is the pathogens that we don’t want in the body. The reality is that there is no way to really keep them out 100%. Somehow though, our immune cells circulate through the body and keep the undocumented aliens (pathogens) in check most of the time. Every once in awhile they fail to do that and an outbreak occurs in the body. When this happens, our immune system sends out a larger alarm in the form of inflammatory cytokines (hormones that communicate to other parts of the body) to mobilize other parts of the immune system to fight the infection. This process is what causes us to have symptoms of sneezing, aches, chills, and/or fever. We’ll see in another post why this is key to understand some mental illness and chronic disease.
There is likely something to this theory as well. Washing hands, not picking your nose, and staying away from people who are sick definitely helps decrease the spread of disease. Other theories abound that are equally and maybe more plausible including a disturbance in Qi (from a Chinese medicine perspective), disruption of mental/emotional balance (Louise Hay and others), spikes in inflammation or detox reaction (many researchers), and a host of other possibilities. (Maybe washing hands is a form of psychic purification for example).
But let’s turn the current disease model on its head for just a moment. What if one of these other theories is correct? What if the Qi is disturbed, or there is a mental/emotional imbalance that causes illness? A different way to look at this is that a cold or flu represents a disruption of the balance or homeostasis in the body. On his deathbed, Louis Pasteur is said to have recanted his theory to say that Antoine Béchamp (his main rival) was correct. Béchamp proposed that illness is about the terrain and not about the pathogen. His theory is that the pathogens are typical inhabitants of the body and for the most part he has been proven correct. In other words, we don’t get ill because of the pathogen necessarily but rather that there is an imbalance in the body allowing the pathogen to take advantage of the body. The pathogens are already there. So could washing hands be a placebo?
Another possibility is that the body has too much toxicity (think heavy metals, too much sugar or alcohol, or breathing in soot when there’s a nearby forest fire) and it wants to purge that to bring the body back into balance. It isn’t uncommon for one to feel like one is getting sick after this and have all of the same symptoms (including fever) as if one has a cold or flu, but a pathogen isn’t the culprit. Rather, there is another imbalance in the system.
From this viewpoint, the treatments that we think of to prevent a cold or flu, Echinacea, zinc, vitamin C, and so forth may not be the best approach. Immune boosting vitamins may not have the intended effects that we want. Rather we may want something that helps the body better recognize toxicity so as to facilitate removal of those toxins. Or we may want to help the organ systems that remove waste be more open and efficient. This slight shift in paradigm changes the approach to disease and illness.
If the problem is mental, emotional, or spiritual then treatment and prevention must focus on those factors to heal. Maybe this is why the placebo effect may be helpful. Or why there are so many anecdotal stories of faith healers, spiritual healers, spontaneous healings, and so forth. Of course, there is still something happening at the biological level, but maybe we can see a connection between the realm of the seen and the unseen.
My first year of medical school had a required course called Naturopathic Philosophy. Multiple professors giving their perspectives on being a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) taught the class. An important question in ND practice is one’s philosophy about how healing occurs. In one of the classes, the discussion of how to heal came up. Early in the course, there was one professor I was immediately drawn to. He was a Naturopathic Doctor and not an acupuncturist, but he spoke in terms of how organ systems interacted much like in Chinese Medicine.
As a quick side note, I am mildly trained in Chinese Medicine. I don’t use acupuncture in my practice but understand some of the principles. Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) works within the context of five-element theory that believes that different organ systems interact in the body in ways that can create imbalances. A symptom might show up in the heart but that may not be where the problem originates. Western medicine has some of this concept in it as well. For example, high blood pressure may have less to do with the heart and more to do with water retention because of kidney troubles. Generally though, Western Medicine attempts to gain symptom relief within the context of the biochemistry and pathology.
The speaker that day, Dr. Dickson Thom, discussed a six-element theory based on Anthroposophical Medicine and the work of Rudolf Steiner. The five-pointed star of CCM became a six-pointed star of two interlaced triangles in Dr. Thom’s model. The bottom triangle consisted of kidney/adrenal, digestion, and lung. (See diagram 1). These organ systems are about assimilation and elimination. If there is an imbalance in one, symptoms may appear in another. For example, people with liver congestion may present with allergies. A Western Medical approach would be to give anti-histamines, resolving the symptom but not necessarily the underlying problem.
Understanding the interactions of organ systems gives a better indication of how to treat disease. It also creates great complexity even for practitioners. Seeing the interconnections between body parts is requisite to effective medicine. The goal in Chinese Medicine and Naturopathy is balance of physiology.
What isn’t on the diagram is the interaction between the physical body and the mental/emotional and spiritual components of human existence. Much has been written about these topics, and Anthroposophical medicine discusses the interaction of the mental and spiritual with the body. That day we touched on the subject when Dr. Thom stated that it takes years for people to regain health. I questioned that assumption and spoke to him at a break. I said to him, “people can heal spontaneously.” He said, “that’s true, but they don’t.”
Dr. Thom and I have continued this discussion many times over the last 15 years, honing our arguments and discussing cases that illustrate our perspective views. We shared cases where people improved in ways that neither of us expected. I had a case several years ago of a patient who, in the process of doing neurofeedback, had an opening of his heart that couldn’t be explained by the treatment. His other physical symptoms disappeared at the same time. The headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle aches were gone. The neurofeedback treatment could explain some of this, including the relief of headaches, anxiety and insomnia, but not necessarily the good feeling and the muscle aches. His grief and broken heart over his divorce also lifted. What happened?
Dr. Thom and I discussed several patients with cancer that, medically speaking, should be dead but somehow healed and went into remission. There are no answers only questions. The purpose of this blog is to explore these questions. “How do people heal?” is one question, but other questions abound such as, “What is the connection between heart and brain?” “Where does mind reside?” and “How does one mend a broken heart?” It is my purpose to explore these questions, not so much to provide an answer as to ask the question.
I have had some serious writer’s block for some time with this blog. My issues started when I decided to change the brain book into a heart/brain book. The Power of the Heart appealed to me. It’s not like I was planning to write a book on the brain. My first book, Feel Well, Play Well: Amazing Golf through Whole Health was a bit of an accident. What I mean by that is that I hadn’t intended to write a book. I wanted to provide a handout of exercises to my many patients who golfed and injured themselves every summer doing so. I figured it would be a small 20-page booklet with pictures of how to do stretches before and after playing a round to prevent the most common injuries. Two hundred pages later I had 6 chapters, around 50 exercises, and other healthcare tips that helps improve not just one’s golf game, but also one’s health.
I haven’t marketed that book very well. It’s not that I’m not proud of it. It was quite the accomplishment. I wrote it in six weeks. The book poured out of me. The editing took longer, a lot longer. But it has received good reviews and my patients have loved it. My passion though is bigger than golf. Bigger than sports medicine. Bigger than not getting injured.
The brain book started in much the same way. I wasn’t planning on writing a book about the brain. I was writing a 2,000-word article about the brain and reasons that mental emotional issues arise from physiologic and social perspectives. It was to be an educational piece for the clinic’s website. The ten-page article became one hundred pages. I realized I had another book.
The trouble is that my work is bigger than just the brain. I have done neurofeedback for almost 10 years now and combine it with other natural modalities including helping the body be better at eliminating toxins, reducing inflammation, balancing nutrients in the body, and helping digestive problems. I work with a variety of ailments including neurological conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s but also mental/emotional problems including anxiety, depression, Reactive Attachment Disorder, OCD, ADD/ADHD, and autism. What has struck me in all these years is how some people have a change of heart more than a change in brain function.
I am starting to learn more about how the heart influences the brain, how imbalances in the body affect both, how trauma can be stored affecting one’s ability to enjoy life. My passion is about helping people heal. Heal in mind, heal in brain, heal in body, heal in heart, heal in spirit. Every deserves perfect health and what has occurred to me is that when we reach a tipping point of balanced people in our society, our society will become a more just, balanced, and healthy place to live. Thus far, I have helped heal one person at a time. Now I want to bring this knowledge to more people. I want to empower you, the reader to take charge of your health. I want to show you the connections I’ve learned about so that you can balance your body, achieve optimal health, and have more joy in your life.
How do we achieve this? What allows one person to become anxious or depressed in the face of underwhelming circumstances while another person walks through life with grace and happiness when their entire world is seemingly falling apart? Why does a particular biochemical imbalance lead to one diagnosis such as schizophrenia in one person and depression in another? Why do two people facing the same disaster have completely different responses to that event? These are the questions that interest me. The answers though, don’t lie exclusively in modern science but in the depths of spirit and philosophy.