Dr. Justin Pollack, ND
“Your brain is the command and control center of your body. If you want a better body, the first place to ALWAYS start is by having a better brain.” ~Daniel Amen, MD 1
Specific nutrients have profound effects on our overall emotional well-being, including our ability to focus, motivate to do things, sleep well or wake up energized. I am fascinated by what brings health and wellness to people. In my practice, learning and teaching, I have come across an abundance of research explaining how food can become neurotransmitters that directly affect our mind. For simplicity, I'm going to focus on three helpful neurotransmitters. Naturally, a full, balanced approach to mental health is much more complex than biochemistry, and should include any number of the therapies you'll find in this magazine. A short, incomplete list of things that help the brain besides the right foods, might include:
rewarding interactions in your community,
the listening ear of your loved ones and counseling,
time spent in the natural world, doing things that you love,
activities that bring you a sense of purpose, fulfillment and meaning,
moving your body in ways that feel good to you.
Good Mood Makers
Serotonin is made in the intestines from 5-HTP, which is derived from L-Tryptophan. Serotonin is our daytime “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and people who are low in this report feeling “under a dark cloud”. It helps us feel full and content after a meal, making it useful for people who need to lose weight. SSRI and MAO-inhibiting antidepressant drugs act to keep serotonin around in the nerve synapse, and people who do well with these medications might otherwise feel negative, moody, obsessive, irritable or fearful. Serotonin is converted to melatonin by the pineal glad of the brain during dark winter months and at night, and this explains why many animals hibernate and many people experience a wintertime S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) or low mood through the winter season. Melatonin is our “sleep hormone” which sets our nocturnal rhythm and also acts as an antioxidant for regeneration of many tissues. Without enough melatonin, people don't fall asleep well, or are restless with light sleep.
GABA (Gamma-Amino-Butyric Acid) is made in the brain from L-Glutamine. GABA acts as the main calming neurotransmitter in the brain, which makes it important for regulating the stress response. People who are low in GABA report feeling overwhelmed, easily upset or frustrated, and shaky, especially after missed meals. L-Glutamine is a good precursor amino acid, because of its importance in gut health, brain health, and muscle recovery.
Dopamine & norepinephrine are both made from the amino acid L-Tyrosine. Dopamine is the first compound made from L-Tyrosine and is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and satisfaction. It provides the feeling of “I want to do that again” derived from good food, balanced exercise or intimacy. Many addictive drugs raise dopamine levels above normal, then leave a person with a dopamine deficit afterward. Alcoholics and people addicted to other drugs are often deficient in dopamine, and susceptible to addiction from low levels of dopamine. Whan a person's brain doesn't produce enough dopamine, they may develop Parkinson's disease. We see similar tremors and shaking in people going through alcohol withdrawl due to the depletion of dopamine.
Dopamine is converted into norepinephrine, an excitatory neurotransmitter that is important in mental focus and energy. This is released when we need to be alert and can be stimulated by caffeine. Norepinephrine causes the release of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which carries us through stressful events with greater clarity and energy, with less pain or inflammation. L-Tyrosine is also the “T” in thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which are the major hormones involved in energy, temperature regulation and fat burning.
Note that all of the good mood neurotransmitters that are listed above come from protein. Turkey is famous for containing L-Tryptophan, but all of these (Tyrosine, Glutamine & Tryptophan) can be found in a complete protein source.
Omega-3, mono-unsaturated & saturated fats: Nerve cells have membranes that are made of a high percentage of omega-3 fats, especially DHA. The nerve cell membrane also contains abundant cholesterol and the arachidonic acid found in butter and other saturated fats. Solid research is linking deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. All of the good mood neurotransmitters listed above are held inside bags made of fat. If the bags are flexible, they can withstand stressors and neurotransmitters inside are preserved better than if the bags are made of stiff trans-fats or saturated fat sources.
Probiotics: These are good bacteria that inhabit our digestive tracts, and are responsible for the fermentation of many traditional foods like sauerkraut, sourdough, miso and tamari. In the last decade, exciting worldwide research has revealed that these microbes outnumber the cells in our own body. The literature has shown probiotics are essential for the conversion of food into nutrients we can use, and even neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin that have good effects on our mood and emotion.
At the Mountain-River Naturopathic Clinic, we can help you figure out dietary and targeted nutrient therapies to help conditions that range from low mood or insomnia, to anxiety or attention deficit. We work with all other health care providers to ensure there are no harmful interactions with existing therapies, and make sure you have therapeutic quality nutrients at non-toxic levels.
Mountain-River Naturopathic Clinic. www.mountainriverclinic.com (970) 668-1300. 507 Main St., Frisco, CO 80443
As practitioners of Naturopathic medicine, we believe that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. In other words, optimal healthcare should combine age-old, traditional healing with cutting-edge, modern, evidence based medicine. The Arvigo Technique of Maya Abdominal Therapy® (ATMAT) exemplifies this philosophy by combining traditional medicine and modern science. Dr. Rosita Arvigo, an American Doctor living in Belize, has dedicated her life to the study of Mayan herbalism and healing, as well as being a brilliant student of anatomy and physiology. Through her passion and her work, the development and teaching of ATMAT has helped women all over the world with reproductive, urinary and digestive problems.
ATMAT practitioners use non-invasive, external massage and gentle manipulation of the organs and structures of the pelvic and abdominal regions to remove congestion. This therapy improves the flow of blood, lymph, nerve impulses and “Chi” (energy) to the vital organs and supportive tissue, and guides the reproductive and digestive organs into optimal position. This removes underlying blockages and eliminates the primary cause of reproductive and digestive complaints, thereby preventing the progression of symptoms to chronic disease. The goal is to support the vital flow of fluids and energy to nourish and repair the organs and systems naturally, and to allow the body to heal itself.
The uterus is held in position by 10 ligaments, which allow it to stretch and grow during pregnancy and move freely as the bladder and bowel fill. If these ligaments weaken or loosen, the uterus can move out of position. (Up to 80% of women are estimated to have a displaced or fallen uterus as a result of trauma or lifestyle). In addition, the pelvic and abdominal regions are storehouses for emotional stress, which can cause further congestion.
Some symptoms of uterine misalignment and pelvic congestion that can improve with ATMAT include: painful, heavy, irregular or lack of menses; fertility challenges; endometriosis, uterine fibroids and polyps; PMS and hormonal mood swings; peri-menopause and menopausal difficulties; uterine prolapse; frequent urination, bladder infections and incontinence; scar tissue; painful intercourse and low libido; and chronic constipation, hemorrhoids and other digestive disorders.
What to expect from a treatment: An ATMAT session begins with review of your individual health history, and may include a personalized herbal and nutritional plan, as well as a follow-up recommendations to help achieve your goals.
Abdominal Therapy is a relaxing and soothing experience involving deep massage. Stretching and gentle manipulation maneuvers work the ligaments and muscles to optimize organ and structural positioning. During the initial session, you will be taught how to effectively massage your own abdomen, as a continuation of your treatment. While many patients feel the beneficial effects of the therapy after one session, it is important to practice the techniques at home. This empowers you to influence and promote your own healing, and take responsibility for your own health. A few minutes of self-massage a day is key to permanently re-positioning the uterus and resolving long-term problems – without the need for extended professional treatment.
Ideally we recommend a series of 3 in-office sessions with your practitioner. Occasional maintenance visits may be necessary, depending on your condition and your dedication to the self-care massage.
Despite living in the rarified air of the Rocky Mountains near tree-line our summertime give us an amazing array of plants in our alpine forests, meadows and wetlands. Like most Summit County locals, I'm usually running or bicycling through our landscape at a fast clip, rarely taking the time to step off the path and soar the beauty and wonder that creates the dappled botanical canopy below and above. When I do take the time, it is a treat.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued gardening and herbalism and was even more fortunate to stumble upon the profession of naturopathic medicine. My studies included a healthy dose of botanical medicine, nutrition, the research that verifies and modifies age-old uses for each, along with the usual sciences of a doctor. Dr. Kim Nearpass and I met while on our final years of graduate school and residency, and in 2003, made the move to her home State of Colorado. Keeping with the root meanings of both physician and doctor (docere = teacher), our goal is to educate and empower people to participate in their own healing. We work with the body's innate healing power, utilizing the least invasive therapy appropriate for the situation – lessening dependence on pharmaceutical drugs.
For the last 15 years, we have been practicing naturopathic medicine at our location along Frisco main street, and every summer, I have been leading herb walks in the forest. The dates I have set for summer 2018 are below. They may change, so please call our shop, Backcountry Herbal Apothecary, at (970) 668-1700 to RSVP.
Thursday, July 5 starting at 10am
Sunday, July 15 starting at 9am
Saturday, August 25 starting at 9am
The herb walks always start in the parking lot called “Zach's Stop” at the Southwest corner of 2nd Avenue, beyond the Peak One neighborhood in Frisco. I have a list with around 50 different plants listed, and we can usually discuss 2-3 dozen of them during the course of an hour. Suggested donation is $5 for adults, with kids free.
One of the books that I like to reference on herb walks, “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies” by Linda Kershaw, describes the value of herbals this way. “All animals, including humans, depend on plants for survival. Throughout human history, plants have provided us with food, clothing, medicine and shelter. Our recent ancestors needed to know which of their local plants were edible or poisonous, which could heal or harm, and which could provide materials for making implements, clothing and shelters. Today, many of us spend our lives in artificial environments, isolated from our natural surroundings. Most of life's necessities are mass produced elsewhere and purchased as needed. We no longer forage for food and it is easy to forget that the air we breathe, the food we eat and many of the drugs we use come from plants. Recognizing wild plants and knowing how they have been used in the past increases our appreciation of our environment.
Many of the plants that grow wild in the Rocky Mountains are also found in towns, cities and roadsides across the continent; millions of dollars are spent each year controlling weeds that might be better used for food or medicine. An appreciation of how our ancestors survived through the centuries, using many of the plants that surround us every day, may help us to bridge the gap between the artificial world in which we live and the natural environment in which we evolved.”
Modern studies are proving there is measurable, reproducible value in connecting people with the outdoors. For a humorous take on the idea of prescribing time outdoors, take a look at the faux commercial online called “Nature Rx”. Even if you cannot make it to one of the dates, we have set aside for herb walks this summer, make sure you get out to enjoy the streams, rivers, canyons, meadows, forests and mountains this area has to offer. Nature is one of the most valuable healers. Spend some time out there!
Not long after starting our practice serving Summit County in 2003, Dr. Kim and I co-founded the Backcountry Herbal Apothecary, which serves as a doorway to our naturopathic practices, the practice of Tami Clark, LAc, and several excellent practitioners of massage therapy. We are Summit County’s place to find high quality, local Western and Eastern herbal and natural products to benefit your health and well-being. We believe in the healing power of nature, honoring and preserving the health of our planet, as well as our customers and patients. For this reason, we carry products that are sustainably produced. Our herbs and essential oils are the highest quality, either organically grown or sustainably wild-crafted. The supplements we offer are professional line products, which are held to the highest standard. We also carry a variety of natural body care products and gifts, most created by Summit County and Colorado artists.
Written by Dr. Justin Pollack, ND (You can also find this article in the Summer issue of "Listen, Share and Be Kind".) Photo from AANP attendee several years ago
Photo: Allen and Patty Stretton
Written by Dr. Kim Nearpass
Early on in school, we learn about the basic survival needs: food, shelter, oxygen water and sleep. Until recently however, little was understood about the functions of sleep and how it affects our physiology. We all know how miserable it feels when we don't sleep well, decreasing our mood, energy and ability to focus. Recent scientific research has proven the vital importance of sleep on nearly every human function.
It's helpful to understand some basic sleep physiology. A healthy, balanced night's sleep contains a mix of REM (rapid eye movement) and deep, NREM (non-REM) sleep. The percentage of each type of sleep varies during different stages of life, but both are required to maintain optimal physical, mental and emotional health. REM sleep, the time when we experience dreaming and immobilization and relaxation of our voluntary muscles, allows us to integrate and “file away” our daytime experiences. During periods of NREM sleep, our brain activity switches to a meditative-like state that enables us to reflect upon, distill, strengthen and solidify our memories. A pattern of alternating REM and NREM sleep throughout the night allows us the opportunity to make repairs and heal what has been upset during the wake state.
Sleep researchers have shed light on how disruptions in the various stages of sleep can affect our health and well-being. Routinely sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours per night weakens your immune system, leading to more frequent illness and increased risk of cancer. Inadequate sleep also increases the risk of Alzheimer's, fertility challenges, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as decreasing longevity. Inversely, sufficient quality and amounts of sleep balance emotions and improve learning, memory, creativity and decision making.
Poor sleep is a serious problem in our culture that provides endless stimulation and values productive, long work hours. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 50 – 70 million Americans report sleep difficulties, and over 9 million Americans take some form of prescription sleep medication, Zolpidem, (aka Ambien) being the most popular. Unfortunately, studies show that not only do these medications fail to support normal, healthy restorative sleep patterns, but they also weaken brain cell connections during sleep and lead to shorter life spans. Even occasional use of prescription sleeping pills (1-18 times per year) results in a 3.6 times increased risk of death.
All of this information can feel overwhelming and may increase anxiety that could worsen our sleep. The good news is that many solutions for poor sleep exist. Naturopathic medicine offers a wide range of safe and helpful herbs, nutrients, homeopathics and physical medicine treatments. In addition, your Naturopathic or medical doctor can help you identify any underlying weaknesses or imbalances that may be obstacles to quality sleep, such as hypoxia (low oxygen) or hormonal imbalances. In addition, the research that helps neuroscientists understand sleep mechanisms and physiology can also be used to help us adapt our behaviors to promote better quality and longer sleep.
In his brilliant new book, Why We Sleep, researcher and professor Dr. Matthew Walker offers these “Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep”:
Dr. Justin Pollack, Dr. Kim Nearpass, Dr. Lisa Pomerantz.
Three naturopathic doctors, sharing our love of natural and holistic medicine. How can we help you?