Category Archives: inflammation

COVID 19 UPDATE: What have we learned?

I was recently interviewed by a health blogger, Dmitri Konash, with specific questions about COVID 19. The podcast link is below.

Here are the questions and answer notes from the podcast.

QUESTION #1: It has been almost 4 months since Covid19 was declared a global pandemic. What are the main things which we have learned about the virus over these 4 months?

Very contagious, spread by droplet AND aerosol as well as fomites (CLOTHING, surfaces, pillows, blankets, etc). Aerosols are tiny particles suspended in the air for hours following a sneeze or cough or possibly yelling or singing. Droplets are larger particles that fall to the ground or onto surfaces. Depending on the surface the virus can remain infectious for up to 72 hours following droplet spread.

Individuals without symptoms can transmit disease (unlike most viruses) so this in combination with degree of contagion is very dangerous.

The average time from exposure to develop symptoms is 5 DAYS, 97.5% of people who develop symptoms do so within 11.5 days.

Some individuals never develop symptoms but can transmit disease for 2 or more weeks.

Infected individuals can carry the virus for up to 36 days (but we do not know how long an individual can transmit the disease) Average time to clear the virus is 14 days. (nasal PCR test)

Cough and sneeze can project 26 feet through the air, that is why masks can decrease risk but decreasing projection distance and viral load.

Masks Work, they decrease risk of disease transmission and probably decrease viral load, so if transmitted the recipient is probably less likely to develop severe complications (not proven but likely true).

Most infections are transmitted in closed spaces where many people are congregated and socializing such as parties, social gatherings, meetings, bars and restaurants.

Outdoor activity is safer.

The longer the contact between individuals the greater the risk.

The closer the contact the greater the risk.

Anyone can die from the virus but risk increases with age, diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity, heart and lung disease, immune-compromise.

Any organ can be affected, lungs, brain, heart, kidneys, blood vessels.

Hyper-coaguable state can cause blood clots in the legs, lungs, heart and brain, any organ.

After recovering from infection individuals can suffer permanent damage to these organs.

We do not know how many people who recover will be immune or how long immunity could last. Already one case of re-infection has been reported.

The infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID-19 IS 25 times greater than the H1N1 FLU pandemic.

A recent analysis comparing the 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic to COVID 19 suggested this:

 Case Fatality RateInfection Fatality Rate
2009 H1N1 Virus (flu)0.1% to 0.2%0.02%
COVID-19 New York8%0.50%
CFR is # deaths/#cases identified by nasal PCR, IFR is # deaths/actual # cases in a given population, estimated by antibody testing of a large population

For a discussion on the difference between CFR (case fatality rate) and IFR (infection fatality rate) see my previous post.

https://practical-evolutionary-health.com/2020/04/25/stanford-study-on-santa-clara-county-very-questionable-conclusions/

QUESTION #2: We reached the new high of newly diagnosed cases on June 28th. It looks like the virus is not subsiding. What is the status re drug and vaccine development?

Vaccine will likely take at least a year to develop, test, then manufacture and distribute.

Initially most vulnerable will probably take priority for vaccination. Massive vaccination will take longer.

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A SUCCESSFUL CORONA VIRUS Vaccine. There are many corona viruses. They mutate quickly and a vaccine that works initially may become ineffective if/when new strains emerge.

Decadron (dexamethasone) IV decreases mortality rates in very sick patients.

Remdesivir shortens illness and might decrease mortality rate (the reduction compared to placebo fell short of statistical significance, p=0.059, cut-off for statistical significance is usually P=0.050)

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have failed to show any benefit. A prevention trial remains underway.

There is no “cure”, just risk reduction.

QUESTION #3: What are the latest recommendations on prevention?

Social distance

Mask

Frequent hand washing

Get adequate sleep, sleep deprivation impairs immunity

Avoid alcohol which suppresses the immune system.

Get sunshine (vitamin D)

Develop a social “bubble”, limit contacts to close, reliable (responsible behavior) individuals

Exercise out of doors.

If overweight or obese, LOSE WEIGHT (Low Carb High Fat diet is MOST EFFECTIVE in combination with time restricted eating)

IF diabetes or pre-diabetes, carbohydrate restriction can rapidly achieve better blood sugar control, which is linked to risk reduction. Regular exercise can also improve insulin sensitivity, as can improved sleep habits.

QUESTION #4: There was some information recently about potential long-term impact on vital body organs for patients who had only mild symptoms. What actions do people who were tested positive for COVID19 should take to minimize long term impact to their health?

Follow general principles of healthy living (visit my website)

Sleep

Nutrition-anti-inflammatory diet

Exercise

Sunshine

Stress reduction

Social-community support

Minimize environmental toxin exposure (organic foods, safe personal and home-care products, visit EWG.org)

QUESTION #5: What actions should be taken by people who have been tested negative for COVID19 ? 

Same answer as question #4 above, lifestyle changes to enhance immune function and reduce systemic inflammation.

On July 10, a review article on COVID 19 was published in JAMA.

Pathophysiology, Transmission, Diagnosis, and Treatment
of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19
)

Here is the link.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2768391

The case-fatality rate for COVID-19 varies markedly by age, ranging from 0.3 deaths per 1000 cases among patients aged 5 to 17 years to 304.9 deaths per 1000 cases among patients aged 85 years or older in the US. Among patients hospitalized in the intensive care unit, the case fatality is up to 40%

And here is a link to the JAMA patient information page for COVID 19.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2768390

In the context of the COVID 19 pandemic I will close with the usual summary.

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. Follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8. Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.
  9. Eliminate refined-inflammatory “vegetable oils” from your diet, instead eat healthy fat.
  10. Clean up your home environment and minimize your family’s exposure to environmental toxins by following recommendations at EWG.org with regards to household products, personal care products, and organic foods. (https://www.ewg.org/)

THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

Fat Fiction: this movie could save your life

The USDA Dietary Guidelines are about to be published again with an update. Unfortunately, despite much input from the scientific community requesting that the dietary guidelines address the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, it looks like nothing will change. More than 50 scientific papers that support a Very Low Carbohydrate approach to address obesity, diabetes and pre-diabetes will be ignored.

But if you want a more scientific perspective I suggest you watch this movie. You can watch it free on Amazon Prime.

If you have read Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes or Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholtz. then you have already been exposed to the sad history of dietary recommendations in the United States and the tragic results.

Both books are well researched and present accurate science. The movie Fat Fiction reviews the sad history of dietary advice in the US. It presents many examples of patients whose lives were changed and improved by following the advice of nutritionists and physicians who have instead, followed the science and abandoned the ideological-unscientific USDA dietary guidelines.

The American Diabetes Association has finally recognized a VLC ketogenic diet as a valid approach to treating type 2 diabetes. In fact, a ketogenic diet is the only diet that has ever been documented in controlled clinical trials to reverse diabetes type 2 and get patients off insulin and oral medications used to treat diabetes.

Unfortunately, the USDA guidelines and the American Heart Association recommendations continue to recommend unhealthy inflammatory refined “vegetable oils” (processed/refined oils from corn, soy, safflower, peanuts, cottonseed, etc.) and high carbohydrate/low fat meals. The high carb/low fat approach to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes has been an absolute failure, increasing rather than decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke as well as contributing to the explosive epidemics of obesity and DM2. The low fat dogma has fostered the obesity and diabetes epidemics since this dogma was first introduced in the mid 20th century. The low-fat ideology remains fully supported by financial contributions from the processed-food industry, creating a financial conflict of interest for the AHA and similar organizations.

In the context of the COVID 19 pandemic, where obesity, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes type II are major risk factors for death from the infection, it is even more imperative that individuals suffering from these risk factors stop using medications to treat problems created by food and instead clean up their diet.

You can’t throw drugs at a nutritional disease and expect it to work” (Dr. Sarah Hallberg, TEDtalk)

You can fight systemic inflammation with the anti-inflammatory diet I present on this website, but if you have obesity, diabetes or pre-diabetes, the very low-carb version is the most effective and sustainable nutritional approach. Full fat dairy is optional (although technically not part of our evolutionary nutrition) and if you are obese, overweight, diabetic or pre-diabetic and full fat dairy is necessary for you to achieve a ketogenic diet, then go for it. But make sure you include an abundance of non-starchy vegetables which are an important component of a healthy ketogenic diet.

In the context of our present pandemic I will repeatedly say:

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. Follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8. Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.
  9. Eliminate refined-inflammatory vegetable oils from your diet, instead eat healthy fat.
  10. Clean up your home environment and minimize your family’s exposure to environmental toxins by following recommendations at EWG.org with regards to household products, personal care products, and organic foods. (https://www.ewg.org/)

THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

Chronic Inflammation, the silent killer

I was recently interviewed by a health blogger for his podcast. The topic was chronic inflammation. Here it is.

I prepared some notes for the interview. Here are the questions and answers.

What made you so interested in the topic of chronic inflammation?

Interest in chronic inflammation:

  • Emerging evidence, source of most chronic disease including mental health (depression, etc.) is inflammation
  • family health issues experience personally
  • health care policy interest since graduate school
  •  First started to question USDA dietary advice after reading GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES, by Gary Taubes,
  • Experienced Statin myopathy, researched statin drugs, bad data, financial conflicts of interest. Sought alternative approaches to Coronary Artery Disease prevention.
  • In USA, Profit driven health care system evolved from more benign not-for-profit earlier system in medical insurance and hospital system. Drug and surgery oriented. Corporate ownership of multiple hospitals, concentration of wealth and power in the industry and in society in general
  • Saw this every day: growing obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, DMII, auto-immune disease. Root causes NOT ADDRESSED.
  • While recovering from surgery attended on line functional medicine conference on auto-immune disease, covering diet, sleep, exercise, sunshine, Vitamin D, environmental toxins, gut dysbiosis, intestinal permeability (THE GATEWAY TO AUTOIMMUNITY IS THROUGH THE GUT).
  • Introduced to EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY and Paleo Diet by my son

What diseases does chronic inflammation typically lead to? 

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity epidemic, DIABESITY
  • Hypertension
  • Metabolic Syndrome (3/5: HTN, insulin resistance/high blood sugar, abdominal obesity, high TGs, low HDL),
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Neurodegenerative disorders (dementia, Parkinson’s, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis)
  • Works of Dale Bredesen (dementia, “The End of Alzheimer’s”), Ron Perlmutter (Grain Brain), Terry Wahls (The Wahls protocol for MS), all FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE looking at root cause of illness, common-overlapping threads.
  • Interplay between sleep, circadian rhythm, exercise, sunlight, stress, environmental toxins, diet, processed foods, nutritional deficiency, gut microbiome, endocrine disruptors, intestinal permeability, oral and skin microbiome, social disruptors, GUT BRAIN AXIS. These are all part of one large ECOSYSTEM.
  • Positive and negative feedback systems requiring a SYSTEMS ENGINEERING approach to understanding root causes.
  • Butyrate is the preferred substrate for colonocytes, providing 60-70% of the energy requirements for colonic epithelial cells1,2Butyrate suppresses colonic inflammation,3 is immunoregulatory in the gut,4 and improves gut barrier permeability by accelerating assembly of tight junction proteins.5,6
  • Improves insulin sensitivity, increase energy expenditure, reduce adiposity, increases satiety hormones,
  • HDAC activity inhibitor, PROTECTS GENES from removal of necessary acetyl groups.
  • Butyrate also influences the mucus layer. A healthy colonic epithelium is coated in a double layer of mucus. The thick, inner layer is dense and largely devoid of microbes, protecting the epithelium from contact with commensals and pathogens alike. The loose, outer layer of mucus is home to many bacteria, some of which feed on the glycoproteins of the outer mucus layer itself. Both of these mucus layers are organized by the MUC2 mucin protein, which is secreted by goblet cells in the epithelium. Supplementation of physiological concentrations of butyrate has been shown to increase MUC2 gene expression and MUC2 secretion in a human goblet cell line.7,8

What are the population groups which have higher risk of chronic inflammation? 

  • Obese
  • Sedentary
  • Poor-urban-polluted environment dwelling (air, water, noise, crowding, violence, racism, oppression)
  • Divergence from ancestral evolutionary biology
  • Working environment: indoors, polluted, oppressive supervisors, no sunlight, noise pollution, air pollution, toxic social situations, repetitive motion, bad ergonomics,
  • night shift, disruption of circadian rhythm
  • both parents working, no time for real food and family interaction, supervision of children.
  • screen time- sedentary behavior, lack of outdoor activity
  • Stress of social inequality, food insecurity, violent neighborhoods, nutritional deserts

What are the “danger signs” or typical symptoms which may signal a chronic inflammation? 

DANGER SIGNS:

  • Waistline (waist to height ratio, BMI)
  • Sarcopenia (muscle as an endocrine organ)
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Lack of joy.
  • Brain fog, fatigue

What are the typical biomarkers of chronic inflammation?

  • METABOLIC SYNDROME (3 or more of the following: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated Triglycerides, low HDL, obesity)
  • CRP predictive of cardiovascular events,
  • ESR associated with arthritis
  • Stress hormones (morning cortisol levels)
  • Resting Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability

What are the typical sources of systemic chronic inflammation?

Sources of Chronic Inflammation:

Diet

  • N6/N3 FA ratio determined by too much Refined Easily Oxidized Vegetable Oils, not enough marine sources of N3 FA,  grain fed vs grass fed/finished ruminant meat. Loren Cordain research wild game FA composition = grass fed. Margarine vs Butter. Fried foods using Vegetable oils. Oxidized fats/oils, oxy-sterols in diet.
  • Sugar excess leading to insulin resistance
  • Refined carbs leading to insulin resistance (dense acellular….)
  • Disturbance of gut  microbiome from poor nutrition (sugar, refined carbs and vegetable oils all disrupt the microbiome)
  • Gut brain axis.
  • Food ADDITIVES AND PRESERVATIVES
  • Trans Fats (finally banned)

Endocrine disruptors/ BIOACCUMULATION

  • Plastics (microparticles in our fish, food and bottled water)
  • Plastic breakdown products
  • Phthalates added to plastics to increase flexibility ( also pill coatings, binders, dispersants, film formers, personal care products, perfumes, detergents, surfactants, packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, floor tiles, vinyl upholstery, it is everywhere) 8.4 million tons of plasticizers produced annually. EWG.org
  • Pesticides, herbicides, glyphosate (Monsanto), DIRTY DOZEN, CLEAN FIFTEEN EWG.org
  • Medications
  • ABSORBED skin, eat, drink, breath,
  • BPS is as bad as the BPA it replaced
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls used in INDUSTRIAL COOLANTS AND LUBRICANTS
  • Flame retardants (PBDEs, polybrominated dipheyl ethers) are ubiquitous in furniture and children’s clothing. Also linked to autoimmune disease
  • Dioxins
  • PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Sunblock
  • CUMULATIVE BURDEN, INTERACTIONS, SYNERGY?

SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHRONIC IN OUR SOCIETY

Eating late vs time restricted eating

Gut Microbiome disrupted by

  • 1/3 of prescribed medications disrupt the microbiome AND increase intestinal permeability
  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sugar
  • Refined carbs
  • Refined veg oils
  • Over exercise and Under exercise, both are bad.
  • Environmental toxins

Gut dysbiosis and infections include (often chronic, low grade, not diagnosed)

  • Pathogenic bacteria, infection or overgrowth/imbalance
  • SIBO
  • Parasites
  • Viruses
  • BAD bugs > good bugs
  • Good bugs make vitamins and SCFAs required for colonocyte energy
  • Gut-Brain axis huge topic, VAGUS NERVE COMMUNICATION both ways, SCFA in gut and in CIRCULATION (butyrate, propionate, acetate), NEUROTRANSMITTER PRODUCTION (SEROTONIN, OTHERS), enterochromaffin cells producing > 30 peptides.
  • Overuse of antibiotics in medicine
  • AND use of antibiotics in raising our food.
  • Vaginal delivery vs C-section
  • Breast feeding vs bottle feeding

INCREASED INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY:

  • Caused by all factors above
  • Leads to higher levels of circulating LPS-endotoxin, bacterial products that create an immune-inflammatory response.
  • Incompletely digested proteins with AA sequences overlapping our own tissue causing autoimmunity/inflammation through molecular mimicry

Heavy Metal toxicity

  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Cadmium
  • Arsenic

MOLD TOXICITY (> 400 identified mycotoxins, can cause dementia, asthma, allergies, auto-immunity)

  • At home
  • At work

What are the most efficient natural (non-medication) ways to address chronic inflammation?

  • Anti-inflammatory Diet, real whole food that our ancestors ate through evolutionary history (grass fed/finished ruminant meat, free range poultry, antibiotic free, and pesticide free food, wild seafood (low mercury varieties), organic vegetables and fruit, nuts, fermented foods, eggs)
  • Low mercury fish and seafood for omega three fatty acids
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Exercise, not too much, not too little, rest days, out of doors, resistance training, walking, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, chi gong, dancing, PLAYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Stress reduction: meditation, mindful living, forest bathing, sunlight, Playing, music, praying, SOCIAL CONNECTION, laughter, comedy, quit the toxic job, quit the toxic relationship, SAUNA/SWEAT, heat shock proteins, exercise
  • Vitamin D, sunshine, check levels
  • PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, LAUGH, DANCE, ENJOY, LOVE
  • Be aware of potential dangers of EMF, WiFi, hand held devices, blue tooth headphones.
  • Address environmental justice
  • Address social inequality, food insecurity
  • Tobacco addiction
  • Ethanol
  • Other substance abuse
  • Agricultural subsidies in US distort the food supply
  • Loss of soil threatens food supply
  • Suppression of science (global warming, environment, etc.,) worsens environmental degradation, creating an EXISTENTIAL THREAT.
  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. Follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8. Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.
  9. Clean up your home environment and minimize your family’s exposure to environmental toxins by following recommendations at EWG.org with regards to household products, personal care products, and organic foods. (https://www.ewg.org/)

THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

COVID-19 Sweden vs Other Countries

5/21/2020 deaths/ million 7 day running average doubling time
cumulative deaths/million/day days
SWEDEN 379 3.3 46
Norway 43.6 0.13 241
Finland 54.9 0.52 138
Denmark 95.6 0.49 120
USA 282 4.02 49
NZ 4.3 0 598
stay home test-trace leadership
isolate example
SWEDEN no yes ?
Norway yes yes good
Finland yes yes good
Denmark yes yes good
USA late/variable POOR poor
New Zealand yes excellent excellent

Sweden was a source of controversy for the choice against instituting a stay-home policy. As you compare Sweden with other Scandinavian countries above you will see a dramatic difference in deaths per million (cumulative), running 7 day average deaths per million per day, and doubling time. The higher the doubling time (in days) the more a country has slowed the spread. New Zealand is the obvious winner. Early and aggressive action, effective test/trace/isolate, excellent leadership and example by the president are the hallmarks of success in New Zealand. Of course New Zealand is a small island with minimal international business and tourism so the comparison is not fair. HOWEVER, their success and strategy are obvious.

The US failed (and continues to fail) on test/trace/isolate despite the bluster and misrepresentations from the Whitehouse. California and Washington instituted early measures with respect to stay-home but without adequate test kits all of US states have been unable to execute the test/trace/isolate strategy proven effective in other countries. President Trump promised California 100,000 nasal swabs per week three weeks ago. They have not arrived. (California Department of Public Health)

Thus comparing USA to Sweden we see that with adequate social distancing, test/trace/isolate, Sweden did almost as well (or as poorly) as the US where stay at home was employed on a variable time line and to different degrees between the states.

You can review worldwide data, download spreadsheets, choose countries for comparison here.

Test/Trace/Isolate + Social distance + Masks4all + cooperation = SUCCESS

Had the US responded early and effectively, stay-home could have ended very quickly and safely with much less economic disruption.

Poor Management = inadequate Test/Trace/Isolate and other measures.

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article discussing the failure of the
USA relative to Test/Trace/Isolate.

Failing the Test — The Tragic Data Gap Undermining the U.S. Pandemic Response

 

The importance of  Reviving the US CDC after annual cuts by the Trump Administration is discussed here.

On March 25 the NEJM published an editorial on responding to the pandemic.

We did not follow the recommendations.

The AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE, a conservative think-tank, published a comprehensive Roadmap to Reopening.

Unfortunately we have not followed that roadmap.

So boost your immune system and meet the challenge with your personal behavior. Be smart.

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. You must follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8. Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.

THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

 

COVID-19: ARDS, CYTOKINE STORM, and GLUTATHIONE

My good friend Dr. Deborah Gordon recently sent me a terrific article on an Integrative Medicine Approach to Covid-19. It confirmed much of what I have discussed about COVID-19 and provides 383 scientific references (many of which were cited in my previous posts). Thank you Dr. Deborah!

In my last post I promised to write about glutathione and cytokine storm.

Cytokines are proteins made by our immune system. When our body suffers an infection, cytokines act as essential signaling proteins that produce a defensive inflammatory response. In a cytokine storm the usual regulatory process that helps resolve inflammation becomes disturbed and self destruction can occur.

With COVID-19 this can happen in any organ of the body but frequently starts in the lungs, resulting in ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome).

In most clinical contexts the mortality rate of ARDS is 40-45%. In the context of COVID-19 it is 80-90 % lethal in most clinical reports (twice the usual mortality rate for ARDS). However, the ICU doctors in the Northwell Hospital system in NYC have been using NAC (n-Acetylcysteine).

While using NAC as part of their treatment protocol of COVID-19 associated ARDS, they are getting 50% of patients off the ventilator with a significant reduction in mortality rates compared to previous reports (personal communication with a Northwell physician and also mentioned in the Review Article cited above.)

This drug (also available as a dietary supplement) has been used for decades to treat acetaminophen (APAP) overdose (Tylenol brand name, also called paracetamol in Europe). If not treated early APAP overdose commonly causes death from liver failure.

Chronic acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause of liver failure leading to liver transplant in the US.

How does this treatment  with NAC work in the setting of APAP overdose?

“When paracetamol is taken in large quantities, a minor metabolite called N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) accumulates within the body. It is normally conjugated by glutathione, but when taken in excess, the body’s glutathione reserves are not sufficient to deactivate the toxic NAPQI. This metabolite is then free to react with key hepatic enzymes, thereby damaging liver cells. This may lead to severe liver damage and even death by acute liver failure.”

NAC (n-acetylcysteine) provides cysteine, one of the three amino acids that make up glutathione.

“glutathione synthesis is primarily controlled by the cellular level of the amino acid cysteine, the availability of which is the rate-limiting step.”

So by providing a source of cysteine, the body produces more glutathione which can detoxify the liver damaging metabolites of APAP.

Glutathione is our MASTER ANTI-OXIDANT. Since a cytokine storm involves an overwhelming amount of oxidative stress, glutathione is obviously important.

Clinical research in the 1990s established that the lungs of patients with ARDS are very deficient in glutathione.

A profound 20 fold reduction was confirmed in this study.

“Glutathione is a tripeptide that is able to react with and effectively neutralize oxidants, such as hydrogen peroxide. The present study found that the alveolar epithelial lining fluid of patients with ARDS was deficient in total glutathione compared with that of normal subjects (31.5 ± 8.4 versus 651.0 ± 103.1 µM, p = 0.0001) and patients with cardiogenic pulmonary edema (31.5 ± 8.4 versus 154.1 ± 52.4 µM, p = 0.001). In addition, a greater percentage of total glutathione was in the oxidized form in patients with ARDS compared with normal subjects (30.6 ± 6.1 versus 6.4 ± 2.9%, p = 0.03). This deficiency of reduced glutathione in the alveolar fluid may predispose these patients to enhanced lung cell injury.

Subsequent studies of humans with ARDS on ventilators showed clinical benefit by increasing glutathione levels with NAC.

“In our controlled clinical trials with NAC we found that patients with ARDS have depressed plasma and red cell glutathione concentrations, that these levels are substantially increased by therapy with intravenous NAC and there are measurable clinical responses to treatment with regard to increased oxygen delivery, improved lung compliance and resolution of pulmonary edema.”

Despite these findings decades ago, the use of NAC for ARDS has not been widely adopted. But it would make sense to employ this inexpensive medication, widely used for APAP overdose, for ARDS and in particular for cytokine storm caused by COVID-19.

Oxidative stress decreases glutathione levels and if these levels reach a critically  low level in tissues, organ damage can ensue rapidly. Cytokine storm is the extreme example.

Chronic alcohol abuse also decreases protective glutathione levels in the lung.

In my recent posts on COVID-19 I have pointed out that alcohol (even 2 drinks) suppresses the immune system for at least a few days. Alcohol consumption is a double hit, first as an immune suppressant, then as a major source of oxidative stress and reduction in protective glutathione levels. Two glasses of wine tonight followed by a COVID-19 sneeze in your face the next day could be the difference between an effective immune response (mild symptoms) versus an overwhelming life threatening infection!

Likewise, one night of inadequate sleep (which immediately suppresses immunity) followed by a COVID sneeze in your face the next day could have the same deleterious effect.

Below is a chart from the review article mentioned at the start of this post. Notice the top line states “ADDRESS SLEEP, STRESS, DIET, SUGAR, ALCOHOL

If you have been reading my posts on COVID-19, you have heard this before.

integrative medicine chart

Notice the second row in the chart with escalating doses of NAC as intensity of disease increases. When cytokine storm hits NAC dose recommendations peak and glutathione (available for IV administration) is recommended. IV glutathione surprisingly is not part of most hospital formularies and I have never seen it used in a hospital setting. Functional medicine physicians sometimes use it outside of the hospital setting. IV glutathione has become a sexy and lucrative office procedure in some functional medicine practices.

NAC has high bioavailability, meaning it is absorbed well in our gut. So oral supplementation can rapidly and effectively increase levels of glutathione in the body. IN FACT, treatment of acetaminophen overdose in the ER typically begins with oral NAC (often administered through a naso-gastric feeding tube, passed through the nose and into the stomach) Doses are often calculated by the regional poison control center (available by phone 24/7/365) and subsequent doses follow a standard protocol based on weight.

I would encourage you to read through this COVID-19 INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE review article.

It is thick with science but you might be surprised by how much you understand and learn.

In the chart above there is specific mention of Vitamin C supplementation in escalating doses as degree of illness increases. Vitamin C is an important anti-oxidant and in that sense is a glutathione sparing agent helping to mitigate glutathione depletion.

Other important factors mentioned in the article and the chart above include items mentioned here in previous posts: ZINC, ZINC IONOPHORES, phytochemicals (quercitin, EGCg, curcumin), Vitamin D, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, sunshine.

So I will close this post the way I have closed on many posts related to COVID-19.

Support your immune system.

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. Follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8.  Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet, sugar increases inflammation, contributes to metabolic dysfunction and impairs immunity.

In a future post I will describe my PERSONAL approach to dietary supplements in the context of COVID-19. I will also discuss the issue of an ADVANCED DIRECTIVE, in case you are hospitalized.

THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

Glutathione review links are below:

Glutathione!

Mitochondrial Glutathione, a key survival antioxidant

Glutathione: overview of its protective roles, measurement, and biosynthesis

 

 

 

Study shows only 12% of US adults are metabolically healthy!

What does this mean? The authors of this study looked at several important markers of health: waist circumference, fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL, and whether someone was taking any medication related to these markers. They used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016. Only 12.3% of US adults qualified as healthy on all measures. So how did we get into this horrible situation?

Let’s step back and look at modifiable factors that play into these health measures.

  • Adequate restorative sleep
  • Stress
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sunlight (Vitamin D)
  • Social connection
  • Environmental toxins
  • Rest

I have discussed the importance of sleep in several posts. Following this link you will find recommendations for good sleep habits that can enhance the quality and duration of your sleep.

If you have not watched Dan Pardi’s discussion of “HOW TO OPTIMIZE LIGHT FOR HEALTH” I recommend you watch this.

STRESS

Stress reduction is a huge topic. Managing stress involves so many areas it deserves a separate discussion. But here are some basics. Getting adequate sleep is the place to start. Activities like Meditation, Yoga, moderate exercise (walking outdoors in a green space) Tai Chi, music, practicing Mindfulness, and spending time with family and friends are all potential avenues to reduce the deletrious effects of stress in our lives.

NUTRITION

I have presented one approach to an anti-inflammatory diet  and if you have not read through the details just follow the link. The low hanging fruit begins with elimination of processed foods, sweetened beverages, and pro-inflammatory “vegetable oils” (OILS made from corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, canola, margarine). EAT WHOLE FOODS.

TO LEARN ABOUT THE ILL-EFFECTS OF “VEGETABLE OILS” LISTEN TO NINA:

EXERCISE

My post about exercise as medicine can be found here. 

The best way to exercise is to play as described by my friend Daryl Edwards in his TED talk.

 

Most Americans do not get enough, but some get too much. Moderation is important.

SUNLIGHT

Getting outdoor light exposure early in the day and avoiding the deleterious effects of artificial light in the evening (wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening) are two important ways to get the most benefit from light exposure, improve your sleep and enhance your Vitamin D level. Exercise outdoors in a green space provides more benefit than walking the treadmill indoors.

SOCIAL CONNECTION

Blue Zones are areas in the world that have the greatest numbers of individuals living to age 100. The climates and food varies among the various areas. They  all have two things in common. First is a high degree of social connection, strong family ties, lifelong friends. Social connection within a supportive community is arguably one of the most important factors affecting health, longevity, and healthspan. Second, they eat REAL WHOLE FOOD.

blue zones longevity hotspots.jpg

 

ENVIORNMENTAL TOXINS

Part of eliminating environmental toxins includes consuming organic fruits and vegetables and eating meat, poultry and eggs from hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free- range/pastured sources. (ALL PART OF AN ANCESTRAL/PALEO DIET) If you are not familiar with the “dirty dozen” and the “clean 15” head on over to EWG.org where you will learn not only about what foods have the most/least residual pesticides, but also what personal care products and household cleaners are safe for you and your family.

WATER: Because humans have spent the last 4-5 decades polluting our air and water there is probably no water supply that is totally free of enviornmental toxins. To minimize your consumption of enviornmental toxins, filter your drinking water through a high quality system.

REST

Matthew Redlund MD has written a great book “THE POWER OF REST”. Here he discusses why sleep is not enough.

The fact that only 12% of American adults are metabolically healthy should be cause for great alarm. All chronic and degenerative  diseases including dementia, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer rise as metabolic health deteriorates.

Remember, this website offers educational information only. Consult your health care provider for medical advice.

Sleep well, exercise outdoors, laugh, love, engage in meaningful work, drink filtered water, eat clean, eat whole foods, get plenty of sunshine, spend time with those you love.

Doctor Bob

 

Ketogenic Diet, Keto-Medicine

I have spent a few days watching lectures from various low-carb-healthy-fat meetings. There is an impressive amount of solid clinical data to support Very Low Carb (with healthy fat)  diets to treat obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and seizure disorders. Eric Westman MD, author, Associate Professor of Medicine, Past Chairman of the Obesity Medicine Association,  and director of Duke University Lifestyle Medical Clinic gave an impassioned and authoritative talk on the success of LCHF in treating all of these disorders here.

 

Dr. Steven Phinney,  Professor Emeritus UC Davis and presently Chief Medical Officer for VIRTA has given numerous talks on the beneficial effects of a ketogenic diet. He and Jeff Volek Ph.D. have done research for decades on the physiology of low carbohydrate diets. They elucidated the changes that occur in high level athletes as they adapt to burning fat as their major fuel source during and after a period of “fat adaptation”. It turns out that endurance athletes, after a period of 1 to 3 months of adaptation to a low carb-high fat diet (variable from person to person) perform at equal or higher levels as compared to their performance when previously on a high carbohydrate diet. In fact, because lean athletes have much greater energy stored in fat as compared to glycogen (carbohydrate) they can go for many hours longer than an athlete who is dependent on carbohydrate metabolism (not fat adapted). Glycogen is the starch source of energy that humans store in the liver (100 grams) and in muscle (400 grams). Compared to glycogen, fat stores in lean individuals, including buff athletes,  can provide more than 10 times the amount of energy. Endurance athletes who are keto-adapted (fat burners) can ride a bike all day or run an ultra-marathon (100 miles) without taking in any energy source. (They must of course replace fluid and electrolytes). Whereas athletes who have followed a traditional high carb diet must start consuming calories after about 3 hours of moderate-high intensity exercise. Doctors Phinney and Volek have done clinical research on humans with obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes and they have demonstrated superior results when compared to any other dietary approach.

You can learn about their work here:

And here:

So what is this all about? If carbohydrates are restricted to very low levels and instead we consume (healthy) fat as our major source of energy with moderate amounts of protein, then the human body starts to burn fat. This process results in the production of ketones (in the liver) which serve not only as a source of energy but also act as “signaling” molecules that turn on beneficial genes that fight inflammation and turn off genes that produce inflammation. When a well formulated ketogenic diet is followed under medical supervision, diabetics can often get off most or all of their diabetes medications within weeks to months as they lose weight. Improvements are seen quickly in blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, liver function tests, insulin sensitivity, inflammatory markers, subjective energy levels, mental clarity and mood. Triglycerides are reduced, HDL increases, and improvements are seen in the “atherogenic profile” with reductions in small dense LDL particles with a shift to large buoyant LDL particles. On a ketogenic diet humans spontaneously consume lower caloric intake because fat and protein are more satiating compared to carbohydrate. Circulating saturated fat in the blood DECREASES on a keto-genic diet. Refined carbohydrates and sugar (so prevalent in processed foods) produce increased circulating fat in the blood and increased fat storage throughout the body, often leading to fatty liver disease and the long list of chronic diseases caused by and associated with insulin resistance.

A ketogenic diet is also part of Dr. Dale Bredesen’s effective treatment program for early dementia (ReCoDe-Reversal of Cognitive Decline). I have discussed Dr. Bredesen’s approach before. Here is one of his discussions.

You can read Dr. Bredesen’s report of 100 patients who have reversed cognitive decline using a ketogenic diet as PART of the ReCoDe program here.

So what are the healthy fats in a low carb high fat diet?

They include fats found in whole foods such as nuts and avocados, pasture raised animals free of hormones and antibiotics, free range poultry and eggs, wild fish and seafood (avoiding large fish that have high mercury levels), extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, butter from pastured grass-fed animals, and coconut oil. (yes butter is included despite that fact that strict paleo excludes dairy)

You should avoid all of the processed/refined oils that come from seeds, grains and legumes including soy oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil. You can learn why these (misnamed) “vegetable oils” are dangerous and how they were marketed to an unwitting public with the help and support of faulty science by listening to Nina Teicholz here:

There are many great lectures about the low-carb-high-fat ketogenic diet in addressing obesity, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, seizures and more. Go to youtube and search “keto diet”, “low carb high fat”.

Before I sign off I will provide one more link:

Remember, this website offers educational information only. Consult your health care provider for medical advice.

Sleep well, exercise outdoors, laugh, love, engage in meaningful work, drink filtered water, eat clean, eat whole foods, get plenty of sunshine, spend time with those you love.

Doctor Bob

 

 

Depression, Food, Sunshine, Gut Microbiome

A family member was admitted to a psychiatric hospital this year with a major depressive episode. For the sake of anonymity lets call her Margie. I investigated the hospital and found that the medical director, chief nursing officer and CEO had excellent credentials. I asked Margie about her food choices, opportunity for exercise and time outdoors. All of these were deplorable. The only opportunity to spend time outdoors was to go outside with the smoking group for 20 minutes twice per day (cigarette breaks). There was no exercise program or exercise opportunity other than walking the halls and walking up and down the stairs with the smoking group going to/from a smoking session. The only green leafy vegetable available was iceberg lettuce (minimal nutritional value). Food options included high sugar and high starch content items, with very few vegetables and fresh fruits. Sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to inflammation and gut dysbiosis, both of which contribute to psychiatric illness.

Margie had insomnia and depression. These two problems travel together and feed on each other. The lack of outdoor light in the morning and presence of artificial light in the evening all contribute to disruption of  circadian rhythm, worsening depression and insomnia. Lack of exercise also contributes to both.

Here is an excerpt of a letter I sent to her treating psychiatrist with copies to the CEO, medical director and chief nursing officer.

I do have concerns about the lack of availability at XXXXXXXXX Hospital of two essential components to mental health, specifically nutritional support and exercise.

So far the dietician has not yet consulted with XXXXX. I called the dietary department to discuss my concerns that she has been served primarily nutritionally deplete starch and sugar laden foods with a minimum of vegetables, fruit, healthy fat and protein. I was told that the only green leafy vegetable available is lettuce and when I inquired about other vegetables the response was very limited. Bob in the dietary department was great and very receptive to my concerns but seems somewhat limited in the availability of appropriate nutrient dense food at XXXXXXXX.

In addition, Maria tells me that XXXXXXX has no exercise program or exercise facility for patients. The importance of exercise and nutrition has been discussed extensively in the psychiatry literature.

Enclosed are a few review articles and abstracts relevant to nutrition and exercise for in-patient psychiatry. I hope you find these useful and would consider making efforts along the lines of the author’s recommendations in these studies and review articles.

I found the review by Dr LaChance and Dr. Ramsey “Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression” to be most informative. You are probably aware that Dr. Ramsey has presented many lectures at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. The authors of the other studies enclosed have also been well represented at that meeting.

Despite requesting a response from the Medical Director, Chief Nursing Officer, and CEO, I never received any communication in response to my concerns.

The concept of “NUTRITIONAL PSYCHIATRY” has received much attention in the psychiatry literature. This article was published in the World Journal of Psychiatry. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.

The article discusses nutrients that are “related to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders”

Here is a summary:

Twelve Antidepressant Nutrients relate to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders: Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.

The highest scoring foods were bivalves such as oysters and mussels, various seafoods, and organ meats for animal foods. The highest scoring plant foods were leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables.

This description aligns with the anti-inflammatory diet that I recommend to patients.

This dietary approach provides essential nutrients for brain health but also provides for healthy diversity in the gut microbiome,.

The relationship between psychiatric illness and the gut microbiome has been extensively reviewed in the medical literature.

Source of image:

Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 11 September 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2018.00033

This complicated picture depicts the interaction between food, gut microbiome, immune system, inflammation, endocrine system (stress response mediated by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis), nervous system, neuro-transmitters including serotonin (the target of many ante-depressant medications). BBB is the blood brain barrier. ENS is the enteric nervous system. SCFAs are short chain fatty acids, very important for health, produced by “good” gut bacteria by using dietary fiber. SCFAs serve several useful purposes including nourishment for the cells that line the gut, protection of the tight junctions between those cells (prevent leaky gut), direct anti-inflammatory actions and more. Leaky gut leads to an increase in pro-inflammatory substances crossing the gut barrier and entering the body (instead of staying in the gut and leaving with stool) with a cascade of undesirable consequences. LPS (lipopolysaccharides) are bacterial wall toxins that stimulate the immune system and create inflammation. This inflammatory response is a major contributor to death in the setting of systemic infections (sepsis).

If you are interested in understanding this picture you can read the entire article here.

It is clear from this picture that the authors recommend beans and whole grains. I advise  against the consumption of grains and legumes in favor of colorful vegetables which provide for 5-7 times the amount of fiber per calorie compared to grains. Many reasons to avoid grains and legumes discussed on the website many times.

Fiber-rich diets are the main fermentable sources for SCFAs which contribute to the attenuation of systemic inflammation by inducing regulatory T cells. (Lucas et al., 2018) and through multiple other mechanisms.

SCFAs are one of many metabolites produced by gut bacteria that contribute to the prevention of depression

The mechanisms of action include direct communication to the brain through the vagus nerve, absorption of SCFAs into the blood where it can reach the brain and have beneficial effects, dampening of the inflammatory immune response, protecting the gut lining as mentioned above. These are depicted below.

 

SCFAs and depression

Image Source : Microb Cell 2019 Oct 7,; 6(10): 451-481, PMID 31646148

Exercise protects against depression and is useful as therapy for depression.

In her discussion of depression as a brain inflammatory disorder Psychiatrist Emily Dean describes well some of these interactions.

This is not the first time I have observed  very limited access to nutritious foods, exercise and sunlight in the setting of a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately, it will likely not be the last despite multiple studies and articles in the medical literature pointing to the importance of these three ingredients for general and psychiatric health.

To prevent and treat depression and other psychiatric illnesses, nutrition, exercise, sunshine are all important. Lack of these basic treatment modalities hampers recovery and health.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose.

Doctor Bob

 

 

 

 

Can LED light bulbs, computer screens and TV make your pain worse?

The answer is probably yes.

The mechanism(s) go like this:

Exposure to full spectrum light in the evening > reduces quantity and quality of restorative sleep which in turn > increases chronic inflammation and contributes to depression both of which make pain worse.

Exposure to full spectrum light in the evening also > reduces nitric oxide production > which increases blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders.

In animal studies interruption of circadian rhythm with artificial light exposure when the animal would typically be sleeping decreases memory capacity.

And fat tissue has specific receptors for light which alters fat storage. Increased visceral fat produces more inflammatory cytokines and chemokines which sensitize pain fibers and increase inflammation throughout the body.

Exposure to artificial light in the evening even worsens the grades of children in school.

Adequate restorative sleep is so important that I prescribe all patients with chronic pain 2 pages of  sleep hygiene recommendations.

To optimize your circadian rhythm get some early morning light exposure (without sunglasses) before 12 noon and at sundown reduce your ambient light exposure to mimic the natural light outdoors. Sleep in absolute darkness and wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening.

You can learn more about this topic by listening to a 12 minute TEDtalk by Dan Pardi who does research in the Circadian LAB at Stanford.

Hat tip to Tommy Wood for bringing this TEDtalk to my attention.

Sleep well.

Doctor Bob.

Sleep! You can’t live without it.

Circadian rhythm refers to the cycling of hormones according to the time of day. Every hormone cycles with daylight and darkness, each in it’s own way. Our brain has a master clock, called the circadian clock, controlled by specialized cells deep in the brain. There is a direct connection from our retina (in the back of the eyes) to the circadian clock in the brain. Blue light (part of the normal outdoor spectrum of light) stimulates very specific receptor cells in the retina which in turn communicates directly with the circadian clock telling the brain whether it is day or night. To synchronize our hormones and achieve restorative sleep, we must get outdoor light exposure to our eyes (without sunglasses, early in the day) and limit light exposure in the evening.

Artificial light, especially from cell phones and other devices that emit intense blue light, shift work, late night social activity, poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and at the opposite extreme, late evening workouts,  can all disrupt our circadian rhythm preventing adequate restorative sleep. A rare genetic illness called fatal insomnia that strikes adults at middle age prevents sleep and results in death within a few months, highlighting the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation can kill a human quicker than starvation! Adequate amounts of deep non-REM sleep are required for tissue regeneration, healing, DNA repair and immune function. REM sleep with dreaming provides great benefit by organizing our memory, discharging the emotional content of traumatic events, and facilitating creative brain activity. One night of short-sleep produces a state of inattention and slow reflexes as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol intoxication. Chronic  short sleep and disrupted circadian rhythm results in increased risk of depression, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, heart attack and stroke, to name a few. Sleep interruption immediately halts weight loss during a calorie restricted diet (likely the result of hormonal disruption). So getting an adequate amount of restorative sleep every night is essential to good health. Here a few tips to help achieve a good night’s sleep each and every night.

  1. GET OUTDOOR LIGHT EXPOSURE ON YOUR EYES WITHOUT SUNGLASSES EVERY DAY, EARLY IN THE DAY. This helps set your biologic/circadian clock. Even on a cloudy day, outdoor light is much stronger and natural than indoor light. It is essential for setting your biologic/circadian clock. If you cannot get outside, stand or sit in front of a large window for 20-30 minutes in the morning, looking outside. Take a lunch break outside without sunglasses. Wear a shade hat instead of sunglasses. Your brain needs to experience natural outdoor light during the day.
  2. Avoid bright light in the evening, especially the light from TV, computer screens, cell phones, which all emit intense blue light and trick your brain into thinking it is daytime. Wear blue light blocking glasses/goggles for 2-3 hours before bed. (Amber tinted glasses which block blue light can be purchased on-line and can be worn over reading glasses) There is also software available that will decrease the blue light intensity of computer screens and cell phones in the evening.
  3. Practice time restricted eating. Limit all eating to an eight hour period, thus providing for an over-night fast of 16 hours. If that does not seem possible try to limit eating to a 10-hour period which provides a 14-hour overnight fast. This improves sleep, circadian rhythm, blood pressure, blood sugar and reduces stress hormones. NO SNACKS BETWEEN MEALS. NO FOOD FOR 2 HOURS BEFORE BED. For every hour decrease in eating time period from 12 hours to 8 hours you get health benefit.
  4. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
  5. If you snore, are overweight/obese, fall asleep during the day, or do not feel refreshed in the morning ask your doctor to order a sleep study. Obstructive Sleep Apnea makes restorative sleep impossible and increases risk of heart attack, stroke and most chronic diseases.
  6. Avoid alcohol altogether and avoid caffeine after late morning.  Alcohol in the evening may help you fall asleep but it results in a withdrawal from alcohol during the night. This disrupts normal sleep patterns.
  7. Sleep in a cold, dark, quiet room. Use black-out curtains, no night lights, no phone charger lights, no lights of any kind should be on in the room. Any amount of light in the room impairs the production of melatonin which facilitates sleep onset.
  8. Have a winddown time every evening. Develop habits of non-stressful activities, soft music, dim light, casual conversation, enjoyable reading. Do not spend evening time dealing with finances, conflict, or emotional activity.
  9. Try a magnesium supplement before bedtime. Magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium gluconate, are absorbed much better than cheaper supplements such as magnesium oxide. Magnesium L-Threonate is expensive, but it crosses the blood brain barrier into the brain with the greatest brain penetration of all magnesium supplements.
  10. Manage stress with yoga, meditation, regular exercise (but no intense exercise in the evening.) Perform most of your exercise outdoors in a green space. This provides much more health benefit than the equivalent exercise indoors.
  11. Regular contact with supportive family and friends is essential to health and reduces stress. The greatest predictor of health vs disease is the amount of social connectedness an individual experiences.
  12. Establish regular wake-up times and go-to-bed times. Regular sleep habits are essential. If you must rely on alarm clocks you do not have good sleep habits.

A few words about alcohol, caffeine and sleeping pills.

A drink or two in the evening may help you relax but it disrupts your sleep by causing a mild episode of alcohol withdrawal as your liver metabolizes the alcohol and your blood levels drop. Even this slight degree of alcohol withdrawal will impair a good night’s sleep.

Caffeine impairs sleep by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is the neurotransmitter that increases gradually during the day creating a sate referred to as sleep pressure. Some people metabolize caffeine quickly, others slowly. The slower you metabolize caffeine the longer it takes to clear it from your adenosine receptors. Without adequate sleep pressure (adenosine receptors filled with adenosine in the brain) you cannot fall asleep. Many sleep experts recommend complete abstinence from caffeine and suggest that if you need caffeine to get started in the morning you are regularly sleep deprived.

Sleeping pills of all kinds interfere with normal sleep architecture. While they facilitate falling asleep, they impair your ability to achieve deep restorative stages of sleep and can produce many undesirable side effects including addiction, withdrawal symptoms, sleep walking, sleep driving, worsening of asthma and COPD, constipation, diarrhea, daytime drowsiness, burning and tingling sensations, unusual dreams, weakness, heartburn, etc…. Most importantly they all interfere with cycling through the various stages of sleep in a normal, restorative pattern!

If you want to explore these concepts in depth here are two excellent books that discuss sleep and circadian rhythm.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker Ph.D.

The Circadian Code, by Satchin Panda Ph.D.

Eat clean, sleep well, spend time exercising out of doors, love one another.

Bob Hansen MD