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(This post is a little off this blog’s usually topic, but important for your health nonetheless. It was written by an outside contributor. I hope you find this post informative)
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects melanocytes—the cells of the skin that provide pigment. Usually triggered by ultraviolet light exposure, the genetic structure of the cells change and leading to cancer. Melanomas make up just 1% of all new cancers, but lead to the highest number of deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 76,000 new cases of melanoma skin cancer every year and more than 10,000 people will die from the disease. It’s most common in older adults—the average age for diagnosis is 63—but it is not uncommon to see it in men and women age 30 and younger, which makes it one of the most common cancers for young adults.
Melanoma’s inborn traveling system
As with most cancers, the effectiveness of treatment depends on how early it is diagnosed. The longer a cancer has to grow and spread, the more difficult it is to treat depending on what other organs and tissues are involved. The spread of a cancer is called metastasis and for most cancer cells the process of invading surrounding cells and tissues takes time and great effort and time to spread throughout the body. However melanocytes—when they shift to a cancerous state—awaken a dormant process that allows them to travel much more efficiently than other cells and invade other areas of the body some types of cancer take years to reach.
Patients may be late to seek a diagnosis
It can be easy to overlook changes in your skin. Particularly in the places melanoma can form—like on the scalp, on the soles of the feet, between the toes, and yes, even under your fingernails. Men tend to delay medical care for skin changes more often than women do, but both groups may be likely to miss identifying early changes in their skin which raises the risk for advancement and metastasis before a diagnosis is made.
Know your risk and take measures for prevention
Everyone should understand their personal risk for the development of melanoma and take measures to prevent its development. Risk factors according to the American Cancer Society include:
Exposure to indoor or outdoor UV light
Fair skin, freckles, and light hair
Personal or Family history of melanoma
Weakened immune system
Researchers also say that in addition to these risk factors, some patients may also carry a genetic predisposition to the development of melanoma which can be identified with genetic testing. For those who may be at high risk for cancer, getting a liquid biopsy may help you learn more so that you and your healthcare team can better address health concerns on a more personalized level. Working with your healthcare team to make a plan that will help you monitor and prevent melanoma from developing is a very important step to treatment should it be required. Melanoma doesn’t have to sneak up on your body. Staying vigilant will help you be healthy for years to come. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your risks of Melanoma.
Magnesium is one of the most powerful minerals, responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Magnesium is a vital electrolyte, and among the biochemical reactions it regulates are protein synthesis, blood-glucose control, and blood pressure, insulin regulation, vitamin D metabolism, bone health, and detoxing. Magnesium also greatly affects heart function, digestion, and sleep.
But that’s all boring, right? What about the fact that Magnesium is a treatment for anxiety? insomnia? constipation? fatigue?
Just a few of the effects of Magnesium:
Magnesium slows nerve signals leading to a calming and relaxing feeling in the body and brain. This makes magnesium a wonderful natural treatment for those with anxiety, insomnia, and ADHD.
Magnesium is needed to make ATP. ATP is the energy molecule in the body (that we produce from calories, with the help of Magnesium).
Magnesium relaxes the muscles of the GI tract making it easier to go to the bathroom
Magnesium also draws water into the intestine, making it the most natural treatment for constipation
Your body needs magnesium to run the many detoxification pathways that your body uses to get rid of metals and free radicals (from normal metabolic processes, as well as pollutants in our environment)
Heavy metals compete with magnesium for entry into the brain cells and for absorption in the gut. If we have enough magnesium and vitamins/minerals, healthy metals such as aluminum won’t be absorbed as readily.
Studies show that Magnesium combats insomnia. People take it to promote getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Reflux and/or that full indigestion feeling
Magnesium relaxes the sphincter at the bottom of the stomach. This promotes stomach emptying, so food won’t sit like a rock in your stomach (which can lead to reflux).
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you might be deficient in magnesium:
Muscles cramps or twitching
Sensitive to loud noises
Additionally, research shows magnesium deficiency is common in those with these conditions:
In the United States, magnesium deficiency is a serious concern. The reason is simple: many of us eat a diet that contains very little magnesium. The Western-American diet is filled with highly processed, refined foods, white flour, meat, and processed dairy. None of these foods contain magnesium. In addition magnesium is decreased with the intake of alcohol, salt, coffee, profuse sweating, chronic stress, chronic diarrhea, diuretics, antibiotics, and other drugs. It is no wonder everyone needs more magnesium!
Foods high in magnesium include: Wheat bran, wheat germ, brown rice, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, rye, soy beans, figs, dates, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, dark leafy greens, and garlic.
But it is often a good idea to supplement. Magnesium glycinate is the best form of magnesium to get past your gut and into your brain and muscles. But if constipation is your challenge, than magnesium citrate or oxide is best.
Glutamine is a nutrient that is involved in numerous biochemical processes that impact our immune system, muscles, digestion and other GI processes. Glutamine is an amino acid, a building block of protein, naturally found in food and in the body. Extreme exercise, infection, surgery, and trauma are all known to deplete our body’s glutamine stores, particularly in our muscle cells.
Glutamine is often used as a supplement for individuals with:
The small intestine is the primary organ of glutamine use. Glutamine feeds the cells of the GI lining. This uses about 20-30% of our glutamine. Individuals with a ‘stressed gut’ should consider glutamine supplementation, as it is an essential component for the maintenance of gut metabolism, and function especially during trauma or when the stability of the gut wall is compromised. The gut can be compromised as a result of the following:
Consuming Trigger foods (foods your are allergic, or sensitive to. Often gluten, dairy, or soy)
Excessive sugar intake
Overuse of antibiotics
…And these are just a few!
Glutamine supplementation is a support to the healing process and works to regenerate and repair the cells of the intestine. Because glutamine is the primary fuel for the cells of the intestine, high quality L-Glutamine can be absorbed directly into the cells- and the healing begins!
Glutamine and the rest of the body
Because our immune and intestinal cells rely on glutamine for energy, an individual who is deficient may experience fatigue as our cells become drained and functionality decreases. As cell function decreases, the inability to complete the necessary processes required to maintain optimal health causes our immune system to weaken, increasing the risk of infection and the common cold. This process is exacerbated during times of stress, trauma, chronic injury, or extreme exercise.
Glutamine is an essential component in the process of detoxing, as is helps to remove excess ammonia. It also plays a role in maintaining proper immune and brain function. Glutamine increases the production of Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the body and mind during stressful situations, permitting improved concentration and enhanced sleep.
Where to Find Glutamine in our Diet
Some of the best sources include:
Dark leafy greens
If you think supplemental glutamine may be something to consider, talk to your functional dietitian! Anyone with a compromised gut would benefit from glutamine supplementation. It comes in a powder form that can be added to smoothies, soups, or any drink. You can also click on supplements (above) and see my “heal your gut” powder-it is 100% glutamine.
Have you tried numerous diets and even when sticking to them with perfect discipline, still can’t seem to lose weight? Well, within the last few years, research has revealed a fundamental breakthrough that could be the key to weight loss…a healthy microbiome!
What is the Microbiome?
I have written about the microbiome many times (here, here,here). But let’s refresh our memories.
The microbiome is made up of trillions of non-human microbes that govern our gastrointestinal tract. The microbes are a combination of bacteria (both good and bad), yeast (both good and bad), and some viruses and other microbes. Bacteria make up the majority of the microbiota and we hope, ideally, that we have more good than bad bacteria.
The bacteria have many roles: digesting our food, controlling our appetite, metabolism, and immune system, as well as cuing our body to store fat. They can also affect our mood and how genes are expressed. The microbiome make up about 90% of all your cells, and they are not human. The microbiome is an entirely separate ecology that works in conjunction with the rest of our body’s processes. When the bacteria and organisms of our microbiome function at optimal levels, so do we. But when our microbiome is out of balance due to things like damaged intestinal walls, too much bad bacteria, not enough of the good bacteria, and stress, our microbiome suffers, and we will feel the effects. With lots of bad bacteria, our gut often craves sugar and can be responsible for: an individuals inability to lose weight, increased fatigue, anxiety, depression, brain fog, headaches, acne, congestion, frequent colds and infections, joint pain, and muscle pain- many things you may not realized were linked to our gut! In fact, an unhealthy microbiome is linked to ALL illnesses and diseases.
When damaged, healing our microbiome and keeping it balanced is essential to our overall health. A healthy microbiome ensures we digest our food properly and get the vitamins and minerals we need.
Research shows our microbiome is tremendously dynamic and can change composition within 24 hours in response to stress, antibiotics, and illness, and can also change within weeks or days in response to diet, supplements, and exercise. The typical western-American diet is full of highly processed high fat and sugary foods which feed the bad bacteria and yeast. The microbiome and your weight
Some scientists have argued that the destruction of the microbiome is a huge factor behind the obesity epidemic. There was a study done on mice, where germ free mice were given gut bacteria from an obese person and the mice became obese. What are some of the ways this happens?
An unbalanced microbiome can negatively affect our immune system leading to inflammation. Inflammation is an immune system response that can lead to weight gain.
An unbalanced microbiome has lead to damage of the intestinal wall creating a problem called Leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition where the tight junctions of your intestinal wall open allowing contents/food to leak through. This causes the immune system to attack foods that normally would be healthy, leading to even more inflammation. In addition to inflammation, the research shows leaky gut leads to: impaired glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, obesity, and contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, autoimmunity and carcinogenesis. (Study: The role of dysbacteriosis in obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and metabolic syndrome)
An unbalanced microbiome can disrupt our hormonal balance. As a result, the hormones that make you feel full or hungry are out of sync, making it hard for you to notice when you are full or have eaten enough. (Study: Gut microbes affect satiety-inducing signaling leading to weight gain)
Some bacteria species can extract MORE calories from the same foods, compared to other bacteria species. (Study: Bacteria causing weight gain are thought to induce the expression of genes related to lipid and carbohydrate metabolism thereby leading to greater energy harvest from the diet. )
Bacteria can influence the way your cells store and release fat. (study: Gut Microbiota interacts with the individual’s epithelial cells to indirectly control energy expenditure and storage.
All these things can cause the body to gain weight.
What to do
Fortunately there are things we can do to heal our guts back to health! In my practice I use the 5 R program which is more rigorous that what is described below but it is comprehensive and personalized. And it works! But what is described below is a good general plan for a lot of people.
Eliminate the processed, high fat, sugary foods in our diet. By eliminating the processed foods and sugar we stop feeding the bad bacterial in the gut.
Eat a lot of vegetables and fibers. These feed the good bacteria.
Be sure to eat healthy fats such as avocado, fish, olive oil and nuts. These are good for the gut but also keep up your metabolism while you ‘diet’.
Take a probiotic. (good bacteria in a concentrated pill form)
What is a good probiotic?
Can make it through stomach acid with the microbes still alive
Contains many (5-14) strains of bacteria
Has 25-225 billion CFUs
Some specific strains to look for:
Bifido bacteria (many good strains)
Getting a good probiotic at the store is difficult. I recommend Klaire Labs or Pure Encapsulations, both of which can only be bought through a health care practitioner. Feel free to use patient assess code “dianne” at emersonecologics.com to order whatever you need.
I love gazpacho. So does my husband and my son. But it is hard to find one that has the right amount of the right ingredients (and isn’t too spicy or too bland). I experimented a bunch and voila, here is the result. My 8 year old son will eat a bowl a day!
I also used tomato juice to make this as easy as possible on the chef.
2 1/2 cups of tomato juice
1 green pepper
1 english cucumber
a handful of cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup red onion
2 tsp of garlic
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/8 cup + 1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
Chop the vegetables into tiny pieces and put them into a bowl. Add the tomato juice. Add all the other ingredient. Stir and enjoy!
These ‘cookies’ have nuts, carrots and coconut…all healthful foods. If your kids like this, you can feel good about feeding it to them.
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup walnuts (crushed)
2 tablespoons cashew butter
2/3 cups oats
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon coconut flakes
Peel the carrots and put them in the food processor until they are processed into small flakes. Mix the carrots and all the other ingredients together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly, then spoon out into golf ball shaped servings. No baking. Enjoy!
This recipe was inspired by a post on Super Healthy Kids. But I substituted several of their ingredients for others that I like better, rearranged the proportions, and I added coconut (yum).
Those of us with digestive issues know that sometimes you can’t find anything to eat that is appealing and also easy to digest. And if you do know of such a meal, it usually takes effort to make. There needs to be something that fits into all those three categories. Here’s my easy-on-the-gut, easy-to-prepare, yummy meal. Gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, low fat, low carb, processed-food-free, chicken soup.
To make it an EASY meal to prepare, we start with organic chicken broth, and go from there. (If you want, you can always make your own bone broth. You can find numerous recipes online)
16 ounces of organic chicken broth
1/4 cup of parsley
2 celery stalks
1/3 of an onion
1/2 cup of water
1/2 of a chicken breast (I use whole foods rotisserie chicken-another step made easier)
Put the chicken broth and water into a pot, and turn on stove on medium heat.
Chop the onion, parsley, carrots and celery and put them into the pot.
Cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces and put into the soup.
I love potato salad, but I am very picky. I really can’t stand the taste or texture of most store bought or restaurant potato salads. I would study the labels (of the store bought ones) and wonder what on earth they are doing wrong (after all, the ingredients looked good).
I’ve been working on making my own for a while and finally hit the jackpot! It’s delicious.
6 medium red bliss potatoes
1/3 cup of chopped scallions
1/4 cup of chopped italian parsley
1/4 cup of dill
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
Wash the potatoes (leave skin on for maximum nutrition). Put them in a pot. Fill the pot with water (enough to cover the potatoes). Boil the water and potatoes for 30 minutes. Then let potatoes cool (or soak in very cold water).
Chop and combine the dill, parsley, and scallions in a big bowl.
Mix the mayo, vinegar, mustard and oil in another bowl.
Once potatoes have cooked and cooled, chop them into bite sized pieces and combine with the parsley, dill, and scallions. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and mix thoroughly.
Suffer from a range of symptoms and haven’t had any success with treatment? There is a condition that gets overlooked by doctors. And it can explain a lot for people who can’t find answers anywhere else: Histamine Intolerance
What is histamine?
Histamine is a natural compound found in the body. Mast cells of the body produce histamine (in regulated appropriate amounts, if all is working well).
We need histamine for multiple reasons:
-Regulation of stomach acid; digesting your food
-Effectively moving your bowels
-Brain function; paying attention and staying focused
-Deliver blood, nutrients, and oxygen to various areas of the body.
Histamine is also found naturally in some foods and the microbes on our food or in our gut produce it. If we have enough histamine degrading enzymes (DAO is the main one), then we should be able to degrade all the histamine that is produced or ingested.
Histamine intolerance occurs when there is an accumulation of histamine and/or the inability to degrade it. High histamine can cause all kinds of unpleasant symptoms including:
Low blood pressure
Rapid heart beat
Runny nose, watery eyes
Histamine comes from:
The body (mast cells doing their job)
Microbes (in gut)
The causes of histamine intolerance are many and complicated. Just to name a few: nutrient deficiencies (B vitamins, Zinc, Copper) that lead to the inability to produce histamine degrading enzymes, lifestyle factors (like excessive exercise or too much alcohol), and hormone imbalances. But for clarity I like to break down the causes into two categories: overproduction of histamine and inability to break down histamine.
Mast cell activation syndrome. Mast cells release histamine, but if the mast cells release too much, or you have too many mast cells (as many with IBS do) then you will produce and release too much histamine. There is a spectrum of mast cell disorders, ranging from severe to mild.
Dysbiosis: an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. Too much bacteria or too much of the bacteria that produce histamine will lead to histamine intolerance. The species that we know are producers are: L. Casei, L. delbreckii, and L. bulgaricus. These are commonly found in multi-species probiotics. This illustrates how important it is to choose a probiotic that suits the person and their health situation.
Inability to break down histamine:
Genetic issues: impaired methylation, not being able to produce enough DAO (histamine degrading enzyme)
Dysbiosis: not having enough of the histamine degrading bacteria. The species that degrade histamine: B. Infantis and L. plantarum.
The best way to know if you have histamine intolerance is to go on a low histamine diet for 4-6 weeks. If you feel better, then you are indeed histamine intolerant.
A low histamine diet excludes foods that are high in histamine or that promote histamine release. (This is not a complete list, just a taste)
Aged foods: bacteria produce histamine during the aging process
Ripe avocados and bananas
There are many supplements that can be used to help with histamine intolerance.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and natural antihistamine. Vitamin C is known to help stabilize mast cells and reduce histamine intolerance.
B vitamins are extremely important in the process of methylation. With a deficiency in B vitamins methylation begins to fail, causing a multitude of heath problems, including histamine intolerance.
Diamine oxidase (DAO): you can take this histamine-degrading enzyme in a pill.
Quercetin is a mast cell stabilizer found in fruits and vegetables and can be taken in a supplement form.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple and can be taken in supplement form.
Probiotics, tailored to the histamine intolerant person of course.
And the main treatment, in my opinion, is to rebalance the gut and restore overall health. Doing that, can cut the histamine intolerance at the root.
How often do you suffer from heartburn? GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) effects 25-30% of the US population. GERD is a serious condition that goes well beyond the occasional symptoms of unpleasant heartburn. GERD is consistent chronic heartburn. Individuals with chronic heartburn are at increased risk of damage to the esophageal lining. This damage begins with mild irritation leading to scarring, constriction, ulceration, and even cancer in a small percentage.
During normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located at the end of the esophagus, opens to allow food to pass into the stomach. After a bolus of food passes through this sphincter, it closes in order to prevent food and the acidic contents of the stomach from flowing back through the sphincter and up into the esophagus. In some cases of heartburn, the LES has weakened, or relaxed when it shouldn’t, allowing stomach contents to flow back up the esophagus. Another new theory about the cause of the esophageal damage and symptoms is inflammation (see below).
The conventional treatment for heartburn is medication that blocks the production of stomach acid. This means there is less stomach acid to splash back up through the lower esophageal sphincter into the esophagus. This does relieve heartburn. However, this is just treating the symptom, not the underlying problem. The cause of heartburn, contrary to popular belief and logic, is not too much stomach acid. A majority of individuals suffering from heartburn are noted to have too little stomach acid. One theory as to why low stomach acid would lead to heart burn is that low levels of stomach acid results in the food sitting in the stomach longer than it should (food can’t advance to the intestines until the pH of the stomach is acidic), increasing the chance of back flow and heartburn. Whether a person has low stomach acid or normal stomach acid, lowering stomach acid production through medication is slapping a pill on the symptom and NOT fixing the problem.
To their credit, acid lowering medications do prevent heartburn and damage to the esophagus, but since they don’t address the underlying cause of the heartburn, they are not really a good solution. Not only are these medications just a temporary fix, but many research studies also link long-term use of these medications to the increased risk of conditions such as asthma, vitamin deficiencies, kidney disease, allergies, skin disorders, insomnia, osteoporosis, heart attacks, GI infections, dementia, and depression.
Causes of GERD?
So what are some potential causes of GERD?
Consumption of foods that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, and esophageal irritants (see below)
Treatment: If this is the cause, then simple dietary and lifestyle changes can fix the problem.
Extra weight in the abdomen can create pressure on the stomach and push the contents back up toward the esophagus.
Eating large meals
A too full stomach will put pressure back up on the lower esophageal sphincter.
Eating right before bed
High stress levels
Magnesium helps the sphincter at the bottom of the stomach to relax, encouraging the stomach to empty-the right way
Food sensitivities or allergies
Small intestinal bacteria overgrowth
The bloating and gas from the bacteria can put pressure upwards on the stomach.
Yeast overgrowth in the gut
The bloating and gas from the yeast can put pressure upwards on the stomach.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can be extremely effective in treating GERD/heartburn.
Avoid the following
Lower Esophageal Sphincter Weakeners (if the lower esophageal sphincter is opened or weakened, the contents of the stomach can splash up to the esophagus):
Fats, fried and greasy foods
Mint (especially peppermint and spearmint)
Foods that you are allergic or sensitive to
Esophageal Irritants (these foods, if backed up into the esophagus, will irritate the lining):
Citrus fruits and juices
Tomato based foods
A study was just published in May in JAMA, which demonstrated that a person’s immune system is responsible for the injury (not acid). In other words an immune response (inflammation) is responsible for these symptoms and not acid burning the esophagus.
A general anti-inflammatory diet is a good way to lower your inflammation. This would consist of cutting out inflammatory foods:
Processed foods, fats and starches.
The other side of an anti-inflammatory diet is eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods:
Healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts)
Another thing that causes inflammation is the body’s immune response to a specific food. Food sensitivities are different than allergies (where the reaction is immediate and usually severe). Sensitivities are the cause of low chronic inflammation. Common food sensitivities include dairy and gluten, but a person can be sensitive to anything (even anti-inflammatory foods like avocado and fish). Once you are aware of which foods you are sensitive to, it is beneficial to eliminate them from the diet as they may trigger symptoms. Food sensitivity testing or full elimination diets are ways to determine if you are sensitive to certain foods.
Aside from dietary changes, there are addition lifestyle changes that are important.
Eat small meals
Minimize activity that may increase intra-abdominal pressure such as heavy lifting. Avoid postures that may aggravate GERD (inverted yoga poses).
Wear loose fitted clothing that does not squeeze the abdomen and put additional pressure on the LES
Limit food intake before sleeping.
Taking a short walk after consuming meals
Keep up with sleep hygiene: Elevate the head of the bed; avoid sleeping in the left decubitus position.
DGL (licorice) heals the lining of the stomach (and esophagus and intestines)
Zinc carnosine (healing)
Magnesium (opens the lower stomach sphincter to promote gastric emptying, so food doesn’t sit in the stomach and put pressure on the esophageal sphincter)
This is a liquid herbal mixture that promotes gastric emptying so food doesn’t sit in your stomach for so long.
As a functional medicine nutritionist, I believe that treating the root cause of this condition is better than slapping a pill on the symptom. Treatment can be achieved through proper nutrition and the elimination of trigger agents, food allergies and sensitivities, and adding deliberately chosen natural supplements, if needed. With this treatment plan, digestion can return to normal and, in time, the LES will be able to heal itself.