What Gut ‘Bugs’ Have To Do With Gluten Intolerance

Very interesting piece today from GreenMedInfo discussing the relationship between the intestinal flora and our sensitivity to gluten.

Two key ‘takeaways’:

It appears that bacteria in our guts determine how much access these peptides have to our immune system, and that gluten also changes our gut bacteria.  It’s a two way street.

Caminero et al identified 144 strains and 35 bacterial species involved in the metabolism of gluten based on human fecal samples. They identified the genera lactobacillus bacteria as being predominantly responsible for the gluten-metabolizing functions. This suggests that there are bacterial colonies that can perform the functions that we can’t, functions that may render the gliadin peptides less stimulating to, at least, the adaptive immune system.

and…

Laparra et al. identified that Bifidobacteria co-administration diminished the inflammatory response activated by gliadin exposure to intestinal epithelial cells. In a related experimentLactobacillus GG counteracted the effects of gliadin on intestinal permeability.

So glad the two key strains in the Barrier Plan are lactobacillus and bifido then :)

Read the whole piece here:

What Gut ‘Bugs’ Have To Do With Gluten Intolerance

Also, don’t forget the importance of the baby bifido bacteria especially. See where I wrote about that here and here.

FreeFrom SkinCare Shortlist Released and TGF Toiletries!

logoYippee: after all the hard work involved in judging the FreeFrom SkinCare Awards, the shortlist and commendeds are now out! Here is the SkinsMatter Newsletter which has lots of interesting links and the lists for you.

Many of you know that I have been honoured to be a judge for these awards for the last two years. The awards basically give us a chance to look at what is available to consumers in the natural skincare industry.

There is MUCH debate and researching of ingredients, which takes a lot of time. Once we feel a product is worthy of inclusion, we then look at  the use of allergens and the labelling of them, consider, reject, moan about or reward the use of specific preservative systems, emulsifiers and the like, giving brownie points to the most non-toxic ones, and then we cogitate on the composition of the products and how likely they are to achieve what it says on the tin. And that’s all quite apart from how does it smell, feel, act upon the skin! We are nothing if not extremely thorough and try not to let anything get past us without a query, as you would expect..

Shaping the Market

It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun. The reason I like it is three-fold: first, you know I have moaned for years about the toxic toiletries on our High Street shelves and the harm they can do to us, so it’s nice to be able to see more and more non-toxic versions of our old favourites as well as some new innovative products come onto the market.

And, second, in some small way, I hope we are helping to encourage and shape the market. This year, for example, we noticed a really significant improvement in most of the elements mentioned above; it was much harder to choose between them because so many of them were meeting the criteria brilliantly. The biggest change was a major drop in the use of the more ‘dodgy’ ingredients, which was fab to see. I hope the awards play a part in encouraging better products.

Finally, and for us a really significant one: I am looking for TGF safe grain free skincare products that are safe for us to use. I now have a great long list of products that need checking and this brings me onto the next moan here…

Even Better FreeFrom Labelling

This year, I wittered on constantly about the need for labelling ‘vegetable’ products, which means diddly-squat for a sensitive person. We look at a label that says ‘Vitamin E (natural)’ or ‘tocopherol (natural origin)’ or ‘vegetable oil’ and wonder what is the source? Is it soya, sunflower, wheatgerm or what – all of those are common allergens and people sensitive to the foods want to know they are not putting them on their skin either? And, for TGF safety especially, what about the derivations of the alcohols, citric acid, ascorbic acid and xanthan gum, for example, all of which are commonly corn and therefore certainly out for those of us sensitive enough to react to what is absorbed via the skin? I have even known reactions to beeswax from corn syrup-fed bees, but that might be taking things a bit far!

I am hoping that, even though I know it is not legally required, if a skincare company is aiming for a freefrom market or, in fact, just want to label helpfully for the zillions of people who may reject their products because they can’t assess them properly, they will start to label items like these.

That may make labels huge, I am aware, but we live in a world of online shopping and spacious websites, so the very least would be to put this information in the ingredients list on the product page, which would be SO helpful. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to contact a company to ask for derivations, which is more than a little annoying. Currently, many companies only list the beneficial ingredients and not even the full INCI ingredients list on their websites, which is just an immediate reject for me personally and my patients/readers.

Saaf SkincareI am currently working with Saaf, in fact, who have TGF safe products I love, to help them label in this manner and I hope others will take their fabulous example.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on one again there, haven’t I?! I can’t help it: it’s a subject I’m passionate about. If we want to be healthy, we need that to be not just what we eat, but what we put on our skin too. I am thankful that many natural skincare companies are doing a fabulous job, better than just a year or so ago, too. Well done them; now can the others please catch up and can we take it forward even further? I look forward to our job being even harder next year..

Ok, get your cuppa now then and enjoy the fruits of our labours  :) Get the lists here: Newsletter. I will shortly be asking for some help via the Facebook Group for checking the massive list I now have too, so please help if you can and we’ll get our list of TGF safe toiletries done finally!

TGF Candida Plan Update

Candida PlanTruly Gluten Free CoverAnyone on the TGF Candida Plan, please note that Paraclens (second stage) has been discontinued (European laws again, no doubt, grrr).

I have swapped to Higher Nature Candiclear instead, which is a mix of octanoic acid (old name: caprylic acid) and gut cleansing herbs like pau d’arco, thyme etc.

It is powders and no soya or potato like the others but has some extra Magnesium and Calcium, which is useful.

Here’s the bit from the plan in case you need it. Of course, it is now in the updated version.

 

6. Higher Nature CandiClear 1-2 1-2 1-2 A mix of octanoic (caprylic) acid and well-known gut cleansing herbs. Build your dosage up from 1-2 per day. Do not take near probiotics. Can take at same time as oregano. Each cap gives 44mg Ca and 30mg Mg

New York IgG Tests and Total IgA, IgM and IgG Testing

Just to let you know I have today listed 4 new York IgG fingerprick food intolerance tests – at a LOT cheaper than the normal ones  :)

There are now four different options, testing for 50, 75, 100 or 150 foods. These are practitioner-only tests and I have more flexibility with prices so have decided to pass on quite a bit of my discount to you. The 150 foods, for example, should retail at £299 and I have listed it for £225! And that includes my postage and packing too.

Here’s some info for you and you can now find them all on the shop. Follow the links (bolded numbers)  to each test below and you can then see what foods are tested by each test:

Is what you eat making you ill?

The YorkTest Foodscan is a quick and easy 100% home test that delivers reliable laboratory test results within just 10 days, all from the comfort of your own home.

One simple pin-prick sample enables YorkTest Laboratories (Lorisian) to identify your food intolerances by testing for delayed food specific reactions in your body.

You can test for 5075100 or 150 foods at much cheaper prices than the normal York tests, even though they are the same. That’s because I have the tests through Lorisian, the practitioner arm, and have chosen to pass on some of my practitioner discount to you. This test is for the 150 foods. 

You can see the foods tested here and sample instructions here (written as if done in-clinic but you do the same at home).

Wheat intolerance, gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, milk intolerance, egg intolerance… there are a lot of food groups and foods that can be a cause of food sensitivity and make life uncomfortable. In fact, Allergy UK suggests that up to 45% of the UK population is affected by food intolerance.

Over 75% of people who take our food intolerance test enjoy a noticeable improvement – the majority within three weeks of eliminating the offending foods.

Please note: Raised levels of food-specific IgG antibodies within your blood indicate that a reaction to a particular food or foods has occurred. If you have already taken the decision to eliminate a particular food or foods from your diet they may not show up as a reaction on your results.

If you know of foods that trigger your symptoms then do not start eating them just to confirm this through taking the test. We cannot encourage you to eat a food or foods which you already know are a problem to you. You generally have to be eating suspect foods a couple of times a week for a minimum of 4-6 weeks for them to show up.

If you prefer to take a test where you don’t have to have eaten the foods beforehand, please look at the cellular and leucocyte  assays eg. FACT or ALCAT.

York no longer do the First Step Raised IgG test, but I have found an alternative here. You can also do a Total IgA, IgM and IgG test here and I have found a UK lab to do it so we no longer have to pay for international courier, hoorah!

Why would you want to do a Totals test, then?

If you want to confirm a problem with food intolerance and don’t want a full food test (as in Food Intolerance Test 1), this looks for total amounts of the key antibodies. 

If they are raised, you know that you are producing immune reactions to something and can then treat or go on to look for specific foods or substances. 

Useful also to check treatment progress if you do this at the start of a treatment programme, you can measure and see if the totals are reducing without the cost of the full food tests. 

Hope they help!

Missing Protein Inhibitor Could Be the Cause Of Barrier Breakdown

Some real hope for us today in the guise of a study suggesting that people with hyper-permeability may be lacking in a particular protease inhibitor that protects the integrity of the body barriers.

That’s dynamite info. The researchers:

have shown that Elafin, a protein with anti-inflammatory properties, is less abundant in patients with celiac disease than in healthy people. They identified that Elafin is capable of preventing the destruction of the gut barrier during inflammation, and that Elafin is able to interact with enzymes responsible for the abnormal breakdown of gluten: transglutaminase-2. Consequently, Elafin reduces gluten toxicity.

So, they are talking only about coeliac disease a tTg2 here but this is potentially good news for anyone suffering with hyper-permeability syndromes.

So far, they have only tested the theory on mice and clearly there need to be human studies done but the results so far look very encouraging:

Small intestinal barrier function, inflammation, proteolytic activity, and zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) expression were assessed, . Treatment of gluten-sensitive mice with elafin delivered by the L. lactis vector normalized inflammation, improved permeability, and maintained ZO-1 expression.

In other words, the elafin reduces the inflammation caused when we consume gluten and we know it is the inflammation that sparks the whole barrier breakdown cascade, weakening of zonulin which control the gateposts etc. The researchers concluded:

The decreased elafin expression in the small intestine of patients with active CD, the reduction of 33-mer peptide deamidation by elafin, coupled to the barrier enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects observed in gluten-sensitive mice, suggest that this molecule may have pathophysiological and therapeutic importance in gluten-related disorders.

Woohoo.

Now, when I first saw this report on various websites, it looked like they had used a probiotic culture called lactococcus lactis as a source of the elafin and I got all excited because I thought if we can get the L Lactis, we were home and dry. When I read the study carefully though, they had just used the probiotic in a modified way to act as a delivery mechanism. Shame, that would have been easy, wouldn’t it?! We will just have to wait for their modified version to come out when the trials have been done.

You can read the Science Daily report below in full and read the study abstract here.

INRA – A natural protein, Elafin against gluten intolerance?.

Yay, well done researchers, keep at it!

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Coconut Oil Strengthens Skin Barrier

You may recall I wrote a piece called Thinny Skinnies a while ago now, discussing the skin barrier and what affects it. I followed it up with Skin Creams: A Barrier to Health? You can read both of them here. I noticed in the SkinsMatter newsletter this morning a study showing what I was trying to say: that mineral oils are just not going to strengthen a hyper-permeable barrier in the same way as a non-mineral oil would.

In this study, dermatitis sufferers were tested to see how their skin, and specifically their TEWL rating, a way of measuring the skin permeability, performed with mineral oil or virgin coconut oil (VCO) applied over 8 weeks. I immediately perked up at this because I have been doing an experiment myself using VCO straight onto my skin and dropping it into my bath water to get a good coating. And, yes, I have ruined the bath! A year or so ago I started reacting to the grains and sunflower topically (after a skincare product was labelled incorrectly and I had been inadvertently using sunflower, which I know I am sensitive to, for months, sigh) so I was trying to strengthen my skin. We are pretty convinced that, internally, coconut oil is very healing so why not on our outer skin too? Anyway, that was my thinking. And then here we are with a nice study showing me the wisdom of my ways..

The researchers concluded that:

In the VCO group, 47% (28/59) of patients achieved moderate improvement and 46% (27/59) showed an excellent response. [Ed; That's 55 out of 59, 93% improved].

In the mineral oil group, 34% (20/58) of patients showed moderate improvement and 19% (11/58) achieved excellent improvement. [Ed: that's 31 out of 59, 53% improved but far fewer scored excellent - 19% as opposed to 46% VCOs].

The VCO group achieved a post-treatment mean TEWL of 7.09 from a baseline mean of 26.68, whereas the mineral oil group demonstrated baseline and post-treatment TEWL values of 24.12 and 13.55, respectively….[Ed: just look at the difference in barrier integrity there - just 7.09 for VCOs which is almost 50% lower than MOs].

Thus, among pediatric patients with mild to moderate AD, topical application of VCO for eight weeks was superior to that of mineral oil based on clinical (SCORAD) and instrumental (TEWL, skin capacitance) assessments.

Clearly benefits from both treatments but more from the VCO. I wonder too how sustainable the mineral oil treatments would be? My guess would be that you would need to continue applying mineral oils to get the same moisturisation etc whereas I would expect more healing with the VCO over time, meaning less need for it. Mineral oils are great for preventing moisture loss from the skin but are ultimately drying, which is why you get addicted to your lip balms!

So, get slapping the coconut oil on! For interest, I have been using the TGF safe Higher Nature one. Read more about coconut oil here.

The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on S… [Int J Dermatol. 2014] – PubMed – NCBI.

Buckwheat Sensitivity Growing in Italy

Thanks to FoodsMatter for alerting me to this one on their newsletter. A study showing that yet another grain/pseudo-grain is starting to show as an issue, this time buckwheat in Italy.

I wonder if Italians happen to eat a lot of it or something? And I wonder if they did IgE classical allergy testing and what would happen to those figures if they tested food intolerance? I bet they would go up.

Interesting, too, that they imply that buckwheat allergy is more prevalent in Asian countries, although that could be because that’s where most studies have been done maybe.

You can read the abstract here.

Italian study on buckwh… [Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2013 Jul-Sep] – PubMed – NCBI.

 

 

New Focus Series: Part 4 The Hour of Power!

Welcome to Part 4 of this new focus series. If you need to catch up, you can read parts 1, 2 and 3 here.

So far, I have explained how I have swapped to an AIP Purity diet, as I call it, and we have gone over how certain issues including methylation and trauma in childhood may have resulted in limbic system hyperarousal.  At the end of the last post, I stated our aims to try and find non-ingestive healing methods to help us turn our constant ‘on’ switch to ‘off’ and build new neuronal pathways in the brain.

I considered lots of different methods of healing: ancient, new, ‘wacky’ and mainstream and surely missed a load, but you could research forever and never get started, if you know what I mean, so I have just chosen what I feel to be right so far. This is always going to be subjective because I have to choose what I feel is right for me at this current time. That might be different for you. Of course, I will write this up generally at some point for you, but, for now, the selfish focus is on me. If I can feel as well and strong as I do this particular week, then I am all the better for helping you. I keep dreaming of a big clinic with staff again, wouldn’t that be nice!

The Hour of Power!

English: Outdoor practice in Beijing's Temple ...

English: Outdoor practice in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Polski: Ćwiczenia taijiquan w Pekinie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below is a quick run-down of the methods I am going to actively trial for the next 3 months, and longer as necessary. I have already started most of them and am combining them as I see fit, not least to get them into my busy day! I am not going to say which specific stuff I am using yet as it may well change as I go along. I will certainly tell you if I rate them and which I feel give the most benefit, for me at least.

The aim is to spend an hour a day doing some form of them. This is because most stuff I looked at seemed to suggest there is a synergistic effect in combining methods that is stronger than the individual methods themselves. I can believe that. That’s how Nature works, isn’t it? Taking a chemical out of a whole distilled essential oil doesn’t work like the oil itself, same with plant remedies.

I think it is less important to do the whole hour in one go, although I remain open to that, especially since I read a study only yesterday which showed the powerful effect a weekend retreat of two 8 hour days had on the participants’ stress responses before and after. For me, especially as I am combining methods, it has been easier so far to split it into three 20 minute slots. This may change because I can already feel myself wanting to carry on with certain methods. We’ll see. I also do add little things as I go along during the day. All will become clear…

The simple message here is, though, to just do something. Even 10 minutes a day is proven to bring benefits, dampening down the brain processes that govern the stress response for a start, which is what we are aiming at. Don’t sweat it if you can only do 10 mins and not a whole hour. I work from home and our kids have flown, so it’s easier for me nowadays. Just do what you can.

Here are the healing methods I have chosen, then:

Meditation

I am trialling several methods here to find what best suits me and for different circumstances:

Yoga Nidra (thanks to M at FM again for sending me this; I love it). Very relaxing lying-down yoga designed for chronic fatigue and chronic illness sufferers.

Dynamic. This is like a combination of meditation and hypnotherapy. It’s becoming the core of my practice so far.

Mindfulness. Becoming more aware of what is happening in your body, accepting and naming it to lower worry about it.

Compassion (Loving Kindness). Forgiveness meditation. This may well play into the ACEs we mentioned in Part 3. I already feel this is an important part of the practice, given the ACE research.

Mantra. Repeating a phrase over and over to gain a calming of the over-reactive system. I have developed my own version of this incorporating brain training methods to build new neuron pathways and ‘grooves’ in the brain. Which brings us onto…

 

weekend reading

weekend reading (Photo credit: sarah sosiak)

Brain Training

This is neuroplasticity. I have downloaded and studied two different programmes and read around it. There is a lot to this and I started whole hog, which is what got me through Christmas as I explained last time, but felt I had gone too fast and that’s when I introduced the more gentle meditative approach.

The basics I am using are constantly acknowledging when I say something negative inwardly or outwardly, stopping it and replacing it with something positive whilst smiling, repeating certain phrases lots of times a day (this is tough) to build new neuronal pathways. It’s all in the repetition apparently. I combine that with imagining in loads of detail the outcome I am looking for. I find the dynamic meditation helps me to do this more effectively. I do the brain training mostly when walking or doing something active. This is because the mind is distracted and more able to process the information in a useable fashion. It’s like walking meditation if you like.

Breathwork/Prayanama

I am a very shallow breather so I need work on this. It comes through the meditation anyway but I can tell my chest and lungs don’t want to expand enough so I am adding breathing exercises to help. I may not need something specific but I know instinctively better breathing and oxygenation will help me.

Qi Gong

I need more exercise and this has always appealed to me. It is a form of movement meditation and the forerunner of Tai Chi and Yoga. I am trying both traditional and modern QiGong. So far, I prefer traditional. It’s very slow, soothing but energising and you are only supposed to do it for 15-20 minutes so that suits me fine!

Walking

More exercise. I spend an awful lot of time sitting at my computer. I am trying to get out more and use the brain repetition brain training as my excuse. The mindfulness comes in here too and on days when my mind is too tired for the brain training (it is pretty draining), I try to look at everything around me and really notice it. Trite, I know, but actually I am enjoying noticing nature a bit more.

Psoas Release

The psoas is a huge muscle that goes right over your abdomen and is a very stabilising, core muscle. I learned how to do psoas release as part of my massage and manipulative therapy training. I had forgotten about its link to emotions until I read The Last Best Cure (see part 3). The theory is that if you are going to hold onto deep emotions your amygdala and hippocampus have buried, physiologically that may well be within the psoas. So, I resolve to get my notes out and re-learn about it so I can do it on myself. It can be pretty releasing emotionally, so I will do that after the meditation has been going in for a bit and I feel ready. Might do nothing, who knows!

Psoas, label

Psoas, label (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, those are my six chosen methods. There may well be others: EFT and EMDR, for example, which P used to use for our clinic patients and worked a treat for phobias and stress especially. Acupuncture, reflexology, cranial osteopathy, reverse therapy; there are many.

In essence, all we need to remember is that we are finding methods known to lower the stress response, undo fear conditioning, unstick the amygdala and build new neuronal pathways, all of which in turn leads to lower inflammation, a more effective immune response and a less reactive and better-at-healing you.

Resources

As I said before, I am not going to go into the research in depth at this time as I simply haven’t the time what with all the clinic work, writing and trying to get well! But, I will point you to any studies and articles I see from now on. To start you off, here are a couple:

Meditation and Neuroplasticity Brain Training are not that far apart. Research shows that meditation can physically affect the structures of the brain. Here’s an interesting set of 5 studies to look at.

Effect on Telomeres (ageing and immunity)

And there are loads on PubMed. This is one search on the words meditation and immunity.

To help, I have put a list of the best books I have read so far in an Amazon widget on the Stress and Books pages of the clinic site. I will add to the list as I go along.

 

So Far, So Good

I have been doing some form of this since before Christmas now, not in any consistent way really because I was doing the thinking and analysing of the methods too much. I’ve been doing the Hour of Power for almost 3 weeks. So, what difference so far?

Well, I don’t know on reactivity as I am on the AIP Purity diet which calms things down anyway. I haven’t had a migraine for 3 weeks, which is great for me, but then I haven’t been doing any food challenges really which would usually cause them. And I have had 18 straight days of smiley faces in my diary, which is unheard of in the past few months, so that is very welcome! (I have changed from scoring 1-10 for now to just putting smiley faces on the diary page if I have felt well. If that was the old score, the smiley face would be 0-.5). As of today, my mouth has healed in most places, just one main section still mildly inflamed. Yay!

The one thing I can say for sure at this stage is that I feel different somehow.

I am definitely calmer at my core, if you know what I mean; less reactive emotionally, which I take as a good sign. I feel more hopeful and thankful that I am doing something to help myself. Before Christmas, I was starting to feel very low and hopeless for the first time ever. I have an innate belief that we can heal ourselves but even that was shaken at that time. I now have that belief back. I am definitely less focused on how I am feeling and. oddly, naming the feeling I get eg. ‘this is itching’, ‘this is fear’, ‘this is sadness’ as per the mindfulness training does indeed seem to make the feeling lessen as they say it should. Cynically, I scoffed at that one but, again, the research did suggest it would work. Might be placebo. Who cares: that is a viable medicine in my books, just a vastly undervalued one. What is placebo if it isn’t mind over matter, the very thing we are aiming for?

Doing the emotional work is quite tough and I can’t tell if thinking about past events is a good thing or not. I suppose if I am to believe that my buried emotions from the ACEs are what’s kicked off this inflammatory, gene-modified dripping tap that’s caught up with me in middle age as they say it does, then I have to deal with it. Even if I thought there was nothing left to deal with.

Interestingly, Donna says in that Cure book that underneath her surface layer of anger (which I don’t have) emerged a layer of deep sadness. I have discovered I do have that; sadness is the key feeling that keeps coming up – sadness at the loss of things like my Mums (not only my biological mum to suicide, but, in foster care, you get attached and then ripped away from them, or rejected by them, which has got to be very damaging, hasn’t it?), my Dad, my childhood etc etc and now my food and enjoyment of life. My way forward at this point I think is at least to explore that sadness and see if I can let it go. Perhaps that will help my body re-methylate the stress response genes and turn the ruddy tap back off! I can hope.

Anyway, that concludes the New Focus series for you for now; enough of the soul-baring! I hope you enjoyed it and found something in there to help you. I will continue my trials and report back. Wish me luck. Back in 3 months no doubt to report.

Be happy and keep smiling!

 

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New Focus Part 3: The Reptilian Brain and a Stuck ‘On’ Switch

English: MRI coronal view of the amygdala

English: MRI coronal view of the amygdala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

OK, so here we are with the next part of the non-ingestive healing methods series. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here if you need to catch up.

During my research, the biggest thing that kept coming up in people with chronic illness, but with hyper-sensitivity especially, was the notion of being controlled by the oldest part of our brains – the so-called ‘lizard brain’. Don’t ask me why lizard, not a clue but I like the sound of it! In essence, it involves the amygdala, a tiny almond shaped part of the brain in the limbic system with a very important task but, unfortunately, it seems it is not very bright.

I am certainly no expert in this so I will just paraphrase some of the learning I’ve done and give you my impressions of what that means for us. I certainly remember all about the limbic system as part of my clinical aromatherapy training; its why essential oils can have such an effect on us as that’s where they affect.

 

The Thalamus-Amygdala Stress Response

The amygdala basically controls our fight or flight response, how we react to our environment, if you like. That’s fine when we had to be on constant alert for sabre-toothed tigers or other dangers in Neolithic world; it’s no doubt what kept us alive and thriving. But, it’s not so useful when it starts perceiving danger in seemingly innocuous things, like food. Our senses pick up stimuli, translate that to the thalamus in the brain which fires up the amygdala to tell us whether it is safe or not.

It has been described as being like a small child in brain power terms and it’s main job is to learn from your experiences and protect you. The problem is if you have a reaction to something, it becomes primed to see it again as a danger and will react even more strongly and quickly the next time. This is a subconscious act, of course, and one that you are totally unaware is going on.

After a reaction to a specific food or substance (a chemical, a person etc) that hurt you, you understandably feel fearful if you come across it again. The amygdala thinks: ‘Ha, here is that thing again’, has a quick check with the conscious brain, which is registering fear or some other worry about that stimuli, and, unless you consciously tell it it is safe, it will acknowledge the fear and act accordingly, triggering a stress response and telling the body to react in whatever way it sees fit.

That’s all well and good, but the stress response being triggered all the time is harmful to our health as we know. It starts a whole cascade of hormones and body complexes that lead to chronic illness, poor immunity, adrenal fatigue and much more. The muscles tense, digestion slows down considerably, adrenaline is pumped out which heightens the sensitivity of the brain and makes things worse, you release sugar into the bloodstream in case you need more fuel,  etc etc etc. It’s no wonder that eventually leads to illness. It’s basically a state of hypervigilance, if you like, with the stress response switch stuck in the ‘on’ position. The body chemical cascade becomes like a dripping tap and eventually overwhelms the body which is when the symptoms start to show.

In terms of hypersensitivity, the constant stimuli (seeing/smelling/tasting eg food or chemicals) comes in to your thalamus. Your thalamus gets sensitised so everything is magnified, if you like, then the amygdala gets a much stronger signal than it would have, and that is sensitised/hypervigilant too, it checks with your conscious brain which is recalling all the horrible reactions you have had in the past to that or similar stimuli and decides it must be a huge problem for you and you get a heightened/magnified stress response. And on and on it goes. Ugh. Makes sense to me so far.

Thalamus.

Don’t forget, too, that there are loads of other things in our daily lives that will trigger a stress response, all of which will probably be magnified. A chronic allergy/sensitivity reaction will do it, as will a virus, toxin or a bacterial infection, for example. A row with your partner, a stressful time at work and, eventually – and I hear this all the time, pardon the pun – a barking dog, a noisy neighbour, even light and temperature will start to become something that makes you feel stressful. Inappropriately angry responses is also another one I see a lot.

Eventually, the body and mind seems overwhelmed: “I can’t cope” is the usual refrain and we worry what the heck is happening to us. That, of course, just feeds more into the amygdala sensitisation and it becomes a vicious circle. Chronic fatigue is often not far behind, unsurprisingly. And this constant firing is the reason why most food or chemical sensitives are so adrenally fatigued; they just can’t keep up with demand.

The digestion becomes affected which eventually will lead no doubt to an inability to absorb properly and onto poor nutrient levels which then makes every system and organ of the body start under-functioning as well as allowing bacterial and other infections like H pylori, candida and other parasites a look in as there’s invariably not enough stomach acid to kill them as there should be. After a while, you start to feel rubbish and get symptoms, you start to worry about how you are feeling and to dread what will happen next and off we are again into the feedback loop into the thalamus and amygdala. Worry causes more worry.

Can you see how this is all starting to fit together?

In effect, we become more and more fearful of our triggers and neuroscientists now believe that those negative thoughts become self-fulfilling; we create neuron pathways in the brain that deepen and deepen, often described as a ‘groove’ if you like, and the more that happens, the more fearful we become. We forget how not to be scared of our triggers.

Gene Methylation Problems

It is thought that some people may have a genetically-programmed issue with the amygdala. The on/off switch is controlled by a process called methylation and we already know that many people have methylation defects. Could that be one of our issues, I wonder? When it is called upon, the amygdala releases a specific protein which triggers a cascade which turns on the genes, via methylation, that control the stress response at cellular levels. This leads to increased inflammation and cellular ageing (evidenced in research by shorter telomeres which, actually, I can now test for).

It seems that when the brain is developing in childhood, it is particularly vulnerable to this process. If, say, the child suffers trauma of some kind or starts reactions to  something, this process of methylation can go awry and disables the genes needed to control the stress response appropriately. We get a stuck ‘on’ switch.

I have to say this stopped me in my tracks. As you can see from my About page, I didn’t exactly have a great childhood. Could there be a link there to my hyper-sensitivity maybe, a reason why I can’t seem to stop it. I – gingerly – delved deeper, so to speak.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

 

Adverse Childhood Events

I had heard about a study ages ago where researchers were measuring how so-called ACEs (adverse childhood events) affect our future physiology. There is a questionnaire they give and you count how many ACEs you have out of 10. The more ACEs you have, the more likely you are to have future illness. In fact, for every ACE, there is a 20% higher risk of developing autoimmune disease by your middle-age. I counted 7. Oh dear. Apparently, you can have as few as 2 and that is thought severe enough to trigger illness. What chance did I have then with 7?!

The methylation switch has obviously taken place in my case. My amygdala is stuck on.

The Memory

But there was more that fitted with my case, too. Another part of our old brain is the hippocampus. This controls memory and how you deal with emotion. Scientists have found that ACEs and the stress response triggers a hormone that affects the hippocampus and it under-develops. This would then mean a person has poor memory and is not great at dealing with emotions. I suppose that might mean hyper-emotional or ‘cold’ in some way. I am certainly the former – I can cry at anything and feel things, especially other people’s pain, far too sensitively.

Not just that, though, I was told once by a neurologist that I had a condition where my brain had shut off memories that were possibly too painful to bear. I can’t remember now the name of it, if there is one, but essentially I couldn’t recall anything from childhood bar a few scant memories. It has improved over time but not by much. Apparently, especially in adolescence, the brain can ‘block’ the amgydala and hippocampus or certainly dampen their responses down I presume as a kind of coping mechanism. You feel less and you can recall less. Neuroscientists now believe that this is a special form of neuroplasticity where we can change our brains. For me, that means if I did it the wrong way round, I can undo it. Plasticity works both ways. (More about plasticity in a future post in this series.) That gave me hope.

The issue with this is that it is great as a form of protective mechanism; the ACEs are buried supposedly until we are ready to deal with them. But what if we don’t, or, like me I have to say, don’t even recognise them or think about them consciously any more? Remember the dripping tap? The tap is still on, drip, drip, dripping away leading inexorably to illness later on. Apparently, this is likely to trigger by 30s onwards and the most likely illnesses include, wait for it: IBS (yep, my first illness), migraine (yep, my most recent illness and autoimmune disease (which I think is my gums currently). Oh. Bloody. Hell.

I have to say I stopped reading at that point and took a few days to calm down and think it through a bit. I felt a bit shell-shocked. Could my hypersensitivity really go back to the good old days of alcoholism and suicide? As a biochemist-trained person, I found it hard to accept. But then I remembered my promise to accept what answers the universe would throw at me.

One point that soothed me and might help you is that is definitely NOT all in the mind. This is a known process involving genetic methylation and measurable physiological processes. We can’t separate mind from body and I think, maybe, we need to pay more attention to the mind side of things for a bit.

 

A Link With The Barriers???

The other thing that occurred was that if the problem was basically a protective mechanism gone wrong, would that translate to other, more tangible, protective mechanisms in the body aka the barriers? Ooh, I was proud of that link! It’s not as far fetched as you might think.

Recall that protein released by the amygdala when stimulated? Well, high levels of it are found in the skin of people with skin problems like psoriasis and eczema. That shows the link between our thoughts and feelings and what manifests physiologically on our actual skin. We all know skin conditions are affected by stress, don’t we? Well, why would other, inner, skin be any different just because you can’t see it? (I wrote a bit about this in the last post in this series, if you remember). I theorise, of course, but what if the on switch causing hypervigilance is actually translating into barriers that have become hypervigilant too? I find that kind of a neat conclusion.

Phew. Dynamite stuff. Are you still with me? Is this making any sense for your case? I hope so.

Anyway, it’s one thing knowing that my switch is probably on thanks to the gene methylation changes triggered by trauma, but what do you do about it? Can you unscramble the genes and turn the ruddy switch off?

Well, yes, it seems you can :)

 

Turning It Around

Neuroscientists now know that our brains are pretty fluid, if you forgive the image. We are not set in stone and we can change the hand we have been dealt. It takes effort and time, but it can be done. The aim is to start new ‘grooves’ if you like, move away from the fearful thoughts and replace them with positive ones. That sounds trite, I know, and far too simple, but bear with me; there is a lot of research into this so it is not pie in the sky by any means even though that’s how I first reacted. I am such a cynic!

Not only can we change the brain ‘grooves’, we can change the gene methylation. If we accept that negative events, feelings and thoughts buggered up the gene methylation in the first place, then it is not too far a stretch to accept that positive events, feelings, images and thoughts can do the opposite. Recall that the problem with the stress response being chronically triggered was the cascade of complexes physiologically which leads to illness later in life. Well, we know that when we trigger the parasympathetic response, the body releases a different set of complexes which are healing, protective and cellularly anti-ageing. I want me some more of that!

There has been a huge amount of research into this field and I am not going to go through it; you’ll just have to trust me and go and look at some yourself, although I will, from now on, keep an eye out for studies and post them for you.

Certain practices, like meditation for one, can very effectively stimulate the parasympathetic response and, done consistently, can have a cumulative effect. Mindfulness can help recondition the amygdala response by ‘interrupting’ the process as you consciously tell yourself all is OK and safe. Brain training and repetition can help you build new ‘grooves’ or actually new neuron pathways. Say and do it enough and the amygdala will unlearn the old hypervigilant ways and start to calm down. Going back to that image of the amygdala as a small child, I like to think it is a not-too developed part of the brain there to protect us, but it is totally dependent on what we tell it to do consciously. That gives us an ‘in’ to talk to it, if you like, and develop it in a different way, if that makes any sense.

So, my next task was to investigate some of the healing methods I thought might be most useful to achieve our specific aims. To recap, as I see them, those are:

Build new neuron pathways and let the learned ones wither.

 Interrupt the amygdala response.

 Stop triggering the stress response and trigger the parasympathetic ones often enough instead.

 Encourage correct gene methylation

I’m sure there will be many ways to do that. Obviously, this is highly subjective and is going to need to be based on my experiences and what I need to do, but I will share what I plan to do in the next post for you.

Before I end this mammoth post, I must give credit where credit is due: I got most of this info from separate sources  - materials and books from Lipton, Doidge, Amen, Gupta, Hopper etc and countless websites and blogs. There is a good wikipedia page on the amygdala too here which explains the fear conditioning quite well.

Then, the universe sent me an excellent book which really brought a lot of this together for me. I suggest you read it if this type of thing is resonating with you. The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. I was reading her famous book on AutoImmunity and saw she’d brought out this new one in Feb – fab timing! She comes at it from a very science-based point of view, working with mainstream doctors in the US to turn around her own severe health issues. I found it compelling, scientifically-reassuring and very touching. Her aim was to get the joy back into her life and that meant something to me too. Read it.

Ok, the next in the series, Part 4, will be: The Hour of Power! See you there. Hope you found this as fascinating as I did!

 

 

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