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Coronavirus Update

What to do if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

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Now that more people are starting to get sick and (importantly!) more people are starting to get tested, more and more of us are going to be faced with knowledge that we have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

How worried should you be?

According to the Dept of Health and Human Services, here is a breakdown of your risk:

  • No risk:  Walking by, or briefly being in the same room as a person who has symptoms (fever and cough) and tested positive for COVID-19
  • Low risk:  Being in the same room as a person with symptoms who tested positive, but not within 6 feet
  • Medium risk: Sustained close contact (for 10 minutes or longer) within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 while they had symptoms
  • High risk: Close household contacts of someone with confirmed COVID-19

What should you do if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

Stay home to help reduce the spread of the infection (even if you don’t have symptoms, you could spread it to someone else!)

What should you do if you get sick?

CALL your doctor or the health department.  Please don’t go (unless you are having trouble breathing).

  • at this time they have no medicine to treat this anyway
  • there is a shortage of safety equipment like masks to protect medical staff.  We need to save the equipment for hospital staff who need it the most and not use it up seeing people who are only mildly ill
  • we still only have limited tests (we just can’t test everyone). 

 

More masks and tests are coming, but right now we just don’t have the equipment we need.  If you are only mildly ill, please CALL your doctor and let them help determine whether you need to be seen or tested.  Only go to the ER if you are having breathing problems or are seriously ill.

Please stay home and practice social distancing.  The more we slow the spread of the virus, the more lives we can save.  Please think of the healthcare workers who are working in the hospital without adequate masks and protections, the elderly (including your relatives!) and people with underlying conditions who are at increased risk.  

For patients of Signature Wellness: if you have questions and are looking for guidance, please send us message in the portal and we’re happy to help.

Stay home and stay safe,

Dr Deb

 

 

Woman with the flu in bed

Coronavirus – what to do?

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It’s March, and while ‘flu season’ is coming to an end, ‘coronavirus season’ has just begun in the US.

While coronaviruses aren’t new, the one that is spreading more easily right now is a new strand that our body’s haven’t seen before or built antibodies to yet. This means we’re more susceptible to catching it.
So while many people are concerned about getting sick, and stocking up on food in case they are quarantined at home for weeks on end, let’s shift our focus to prevention. Here’s what can we do to stay healthy, prevent our own exposure, and prevent it from spreading to others if we do get sick.
Did you know that most of your immune system is in your gut? Specific cells in the lining of the gut spend their lives excreting massive quantities of antibodies to help fight off bacteria and viruses we are exposed to every day. It makes sense to say that if you have a healthy gut you are able to fight off infections more easily.

Here are some easy ways to keep your gut healthy:

  • Probiotics

Our body is made up of trillions of bacteria, most of which are in our gut lining. The more diversity of good bacteria we have, the more easily we can crowd out the bad guys when they get inside.

Pro Tip: change up the strands of bacteria in your probiotic every quarter to ensure you’re getting enough diversity

  • Eat your veggies!

The more variety in vegetables you eat, the more you feed the good probiotic bacteria so they can grow and fight off infections more easily.

  • Avoid sugar.

Sugar is pro-inflammatory which means it hurts the gut more than helps it, allowing bad guys in and increasing risk for getting sick. Stick with fruits like berries (which are high in antioxidants) if you’re craving something sweet.

Tips to avoid catching the virus

Reducing our own personal risk of getting infected with Coronavirus will help prevent it from spreading to those at higher risk. Given what we know about how this virus is contracted, here are simple tips to avoid exposure:

  •    Wash your hands!

Did you know most people aren’t doing this right? It’s important when using soap and water to wash both sides and under your finger nails for at least 20 seconds – an easy way to do this is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song – when you’re done, rinse and dry off.

  • Walk away

Infections like coronavirus and flu are spread when someone coughs or sneezes and the tiny droplets in the air are ingested or inhaled. Keeping a distance of at least 3 feet from others – think about having a hula hoop around your waist. Also avoid enclosed areas with large crowds whenever possible.

  • Avoid face touching

On average we touch our faces over 20 times an hour. Our hands come in contact with potentially bad bacteria and viruses all day long from touching door handles to shaking hands. Since the gateway to your gut is through your nose and mouth, it’s important to avoid giving the bad guys a head start into our gut and keeping your hands away from your face.

Man down…Now that you’re sick, what do you do?

  •  Stay Home!

If you have symptoms or have been diagnosed with a contagious bug, it’s important that you stay home to reduce the spread and exposure to others. Typically, once you are fever free for 24hrs or more you can get back to life as usual, but check with your doctor on what they recommend is the necessary amount of time at home before it’s safe to go back to work or school.

  • Sleep

Rest is one of the best ways to help you recover fast and feel better. Your body heals and recovers when your sleeping so getting plenty of rest will aid in a quick recovery

  • Hydrate

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution… Hydrating with water throughout the day and avoiding dehydrating fluids (caffeine, soda, alcohol) will help you recover sooner and feel better faster.

If you have questions, please call to talk to a member of our team at 704-752-9346 or email us at questions@signaturewellness.org.  You deserve to LOVE the way you feel!

Which natural disinfectants work for coronavirus?

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The coronavirus is generating a lot of fear. While public health officials are worried about public gatherings, most of the infections will likely come from close contact within families.   

Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your family

Hand washing with soap (for at least 20 seconds) is the still best protection.  Avoid touching your face with your hands. Hand sanitizer will work in a pinch. 

Disinfect surfaces in your home and workplace

Doorknobs, stair railings, refrigerator handle…..you know the spots.  But make sure to do it right!  Not all cleaning products will kill the virus.  The EPA has released a list of effective products

If a product isn’t on the list, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.  For example store brands that are equivalent to Clorox or Lysol products are not listed, but should work.  Compare the labels to make sure the ingredients look the same.  

A problem with these cleaning products is that while they kill viruses, and no one wants to get sick, they are full of chemicals.

Some people don’t tolerate the chemicals in many of these cleaning products, and get irritated eyes, skin or lungs.  Some people are concerned about exposing their family to more chemicals and prefer natural disinfectants.  

Some natural disinfectants work and some don’t

The EPA didn’t include natural products on it’s list, so here is a rundown of what works:

  • Vodka actually works well as a natural disinfectant for bacteria but doesn’t have high enough alcohol content to kill coronavirus.  Vodka is only 40% alcohol, but >60% alcohol is required.  Everclear vodka is 75.5% alcohol and could be used!  Put it in a spray bottle, and spritz over a surface that has been cleaned with soap and water,  It is important to allow it to dry – if you spritz and then wipe it off immediately it won’t have a chance to disinfect.
  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works well as long as it is >60% alcohol (it will say right on the bottle).  Spray on a clean surface and allow to dry.
  • Hydrogen peroxide works to kill viruses.  Clean with soap and water, then spritz peroxide and let it dry.  It’s important to keep the hydrogen peroxide in the original brown bottle (just attach a spray nozzle right to the bottle).  If you transfer peroxide to a clear bottle where it is exposed to light it will lose effectiveness.
  • Vinegar kills some viruses, but it may not be a strong as chemical disinfectants, and isn’t recommended on it’s own.  Combining vinegar and hydrogen peroxide works better than either alone, since they work on the virus in different ways.  Some people think this combo may work even better than bleach.  It’s important to use them one at a time and not mix them together – spritz a clean surface with vinegar, allow to dry, then spritz with hydrogen peroxide.  

Disinfect your tech too!

While you’re cleaning, don’t forget to disinfect your phone.   Your phone has more germs than a toilet seat!  Wearing a mask doesn’t really help protect you, but cleaning your phone could.  

Apple is now saying that it is ok to clean your phone with clorox wipes (previously they warned that this could damage the screen)  Another option is to spray rubbing alcohol (>60%) on a soft cloth and wipe the surfaces of your tech.  Don’t spray directly onto your phone or keyboard.  If you have a screen protector this will protect the surface from the cleaning products, and if the protector is damaged at least it is inexpensive and easy to replace.

Since we are now finding that the virus can be spread via feces, don’t use your phone while you’re on the toilet! (There, I said it….)

No need to panic….

While coronavirus is consuming the news these days, this is the same advice we give to protect yourself from the flu and other viruses.  No need to panic, become a germophobe or spend your entire day disinfecting your house. Common sense still rules the day.

Boost your immune system by eating your veggies, avoiding sugar, and not allowing yourself to get too stressed out.  Wash your hands.  And disinfect that phone!

Does Estrogen Protect Women From Coronavirus?

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New information about how estrogen may be protecting women from serious infection!

The new coronavirus has only been around for a few months, so research is just beginning and there is still so much we don’t know.  A new Chinese study looked at the receptor used by the virus to get inside our cells and gives us a glimpse into who is more susceptible and why.  Please be aware that this information is not yet peer reviewed so it is only preliminary and the facts could change.  

When looking at the current COVID-19 pandemic, we see that children they tend to have mild disease.  The risk of serious disease increases with age.  Women are less likely to have severe disease than men.  People with pre-existing diseases, such as diabetes, heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems are also at higher risk. The highest risk category are elderly men with multiple pre-existing conditions. This new research helps explain why.

 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

How does the virus get into our cells?

We know that the virus uses a receptor called ACE2 as a doorway to get into our cells.  It would make sense that the more of these receptors (doorways) you have, the greater your risk for disease.   

In fact, the study found the exact opposite! People with the most ACE2 receptors had the least risk for disease. We don’t understand why people with more receptors are more protected, so we’ll have to keep learning.

Why children and women have lower risk 

I attached a link to the study at the bottom, but it is not easy reading so here is a summary of the findings:

AGE:  Young people have more ACE2 receptors (lower risk) and the number of receptors goes down with age (increased risk).  This may explain why children are at such low risk of severe disease – they are protected by having lots of these ACE2 receptors.

SEX:  Women have more ACE2 receptors than men, and in fact we see women tend to have less severe disease than men.

HORMONES:  The researchers surmised that estrogen may be protecting women.  They looked at women on estrogen treatment and found that women on estrogen had more ACE2 receptors (associated with less risk).  They also looked at men on testosterone therapy and found a slight increase in receptors (although not nearly as much as with estrogen).  When they looked at male to female transgender people (on estrogen replacement and testosterone blocking medicine) they found significantly higher ACE2 receptors. 

DIABETES:  People with type 2 diabetes have significantly fewer ACE2 receptors, and more risk for disease.  The study did not include information about other diseases but perhaps other disease conditions also reduce receptors – more research will be needed here.

MEDICATION: ACE inhibitor medications are often used for high blood pressure.  These medicines block the effect of the protein produced when the ACE2 receptor is activated  We don’t yet know what effect the medications could have (if any) on disease risk.  It is possible that ACE inhibitors could reduce risk, but we just don’t know.   It is not recommended to change medications at this time since we just don’t have enough information yet. 

How does this information help?

We can’t change our age or our sex.  I am not recommending that anyone run out and start estrogen or testosterone therapy to avoid coronavirus infection. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, you can certainly take charge of your health and improve your lifestyle habits. It’s not too late to start today!  We don’t know yet how blood sugar control will affect the number of these receptors, but we know that poor blood sugar control weakens your immune system, and better blood sugar control allows your immune system to be stronger.  

We don’t really understand why having more ACE2 receptors reduces the risk of severe disease, but perhaps this will help us to learn how to prevent or treat coronavirus infections in the future.  

Yours in health,

Deb Matthew MD

https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202003.0191/v1

Menopausal Woman Doing Yoga

Why testosterone is important for women too!

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Hormones play a role in the health of your skin, hair, and bones, and they play a role in protecting your muscles as well.  Many women notice a change in how they look after 40, with less muscle tone, which can be very frustrating if you’ve been trying to live a healthy life and take care of yourself!

A recent study looked at the effect of hormone replacement on maintaining muscle mass in postmenopausal women.  But once again, researchers dropped the ball on women’s health and failed to ask the right questions.

They looked at women on estrogen-only hormone replacement (HRT) or estrogen/progestin HRT. And they found no difference in muscles compared with women, not on HRT.

Here’s the main problem with the study: while estrogen has a lot of important benefits in your body, and so does progesterone, the hormone that is most important for your muscles is testosterone – which they did not look at or replace!

Testosterone is just as important for women’s health as estrogen and progesterone. Here are some reasons why:⁣

👉It helps keeps your bones strong, so they don’t snap like a twig when you fall down.⁣

👉It helps prevent stress incontinence (urinary leakage when you cough, sneeze, jump or run) and a future dependent on Depends⁣

👉It’s a mood stabilizer and helps us avoid crying at every Hallmark commercial⁣

👉It helps boost motivation and competitive drive (so you have enough “get up and go” to get to the gym and feel like working out!)⁣

👉It boosts interest in sex (so you actually care about it), which is important in relationships.⁣

👉It helps with vaginal lubrication, so sex is not painful ⁣

👉It helps with skin tone, to prevent saggy, droopy jowls and chicken wings under your arms⁣

👉It helps maintain your muscle mass so you can stay strong and vital as you age gracefully…..⁣

Happy woman

Some women are able to make some testosterone naturally after menopause, so not everyone needs testosterone replacement. But if you’re having any of these symptoms it’s important to be tested so you can prevent turning into a frail little old lady with barely enough strength to stand up from your chair!

The “normal” range of testosterone for women is very controversial.  Some labs actually say that the normal range goes down to zero!  A testosterone level close to zero may not be flagged as abnormal by the lab, but it is certainly not optimal for your health and how you feel!

There are currently no FDA approved testosterone replacement products for women, so many doctors don’t treat low testosterone in women. There is one form of synthetic testosterone available in combination with a synthetic form of estrogen in a pill (called Estratest).  Since this is not the natural form of either hormone, the risks and benefits are not the same, and the results are not the same (and therefore I don’t recommend this product).

It’s important to work with a medical provider who is knowledgeable about the options to support your own testosterone production, or the use of bio-identical testosterone products. Testosterone is available as a topical cream or sublingual lozenge (called a troche) from compounding pharmacies and is also available as a pellet that is inserted under your skin in a quick office procedure.

If you aren’t feeling your best and would like to be evaluated to see if a hormone problem such as low testosterone could be a problem for you, please find a Functional Medicine practitioner to help you.  If you are in the Carolinas, we are happy to help, and you can reach us for more info at 704-752-9346 or contact us here.

Please don’t suffer from symptoms unnecessarily!  Your family, relationships and career won’t flourish when you aren’t the best version of you.  Taking care of yourself benefits everyone you care about.  And you deserve to LOVE the way you feel!

Yours in health!

 

Dr. Deb

Hairloss in Women – What Can You Do?

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Dr. Deborah Matthew was on Good Day Charlotte (Fox 46) to discuss hair loss in women. 50% of women can be affected by hair loss over the course of their lifetime. There are several things that cause hair loss in women and Dr. Matthew discusses potential treatment options that can be pursued.

Men's sexual health couple

Treat ED without drugs!

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Having Problems in the Bedroom?

Whether you are unable to achieve an erection or function is simply not what it once was, a decrease in sexual function can be a detriment to not only your confidence but also your relationships. This can be very frustrating and embarrassing, and it can worsen with age. What can you do about it?   You know about the little blue pills, but did you know there is more that can be done?

Introducing Gainswave!

GAINSWave® is a revolutionary drug-free, surgery-free, and non-invasive therapy that uses pulsed acoustical “shock” waves that can help re-establish stronger erections and optimal sexual performance.

Many men experience problems with erectile function. ED happens as you get older because the blood vessels in and around the penis begin to deteriorate and clog up. The penis loses firmness, size and sensitivity, and this only gets worse over time, increasing with each decade of life.

Here’s how it works…

The goal of our treatment protocol is to help take you back to achieving erections both naturally and fully.  With the use of a low frequency, focused, “shock” wave therapy, we can achieve this in 3 ways .

  1.  First, shock waves break up and reduce the buildup of micro plaque that occurs over time to the 100s of old blood vessels already present in the penis.
  2. Second, it stimulates the growth of new vessels… think of it like getting a new set of plumbing- that will allow for maximum blood flow.
  3. Lastly, it restores tissue and vessel elasticity by recruiting growth factors to the area and stimulating the production of nitric oxide, which allows the penis to fill and maintain blood flow for a full and long erection.   

It’s a simple, quick, in-office procedure with no down time and no surgery. Regularly scheduled treatments over the course of a few weeks can provide long lasting results, up to 2 years according to research. NCBI

Want more info?

You can find out more information about Gainswave, and other treatments we offer to help with Men’s Health here.  This is a whole list of references about “shockwave” therapy:  Multiple studies

Ready for help?

Whether you’re looking to simply enhance performance or are in need of restored function, we’re here to help.  Addressing issues now can allow you to maintain your best performance, and with routine treatments, you can minimize signs of declining sexual function.

Don’t wait for your best days to pass you by!  Give us a call today at 704-752-9346 to speak with one of our patient educators and get scheduled for a free consultation. We look forward to seeing you soon!

 

Yours in health!

Dr Deb

 

 

Detox Balanced Hormones

How to Detox for Balanced Hormones

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Its the New Year!  Feels good to finally get back into a schedule!  If you aren’t feeling your best, a quick detox may be all that it takes to get your hormones back into balance.
How do you know if you need to detox?   Are you having any of these symptoms?
Bloating
Heavy periods
Mood swings
Breast tenderness
Retaining fluid
Achy joints
A detox program will help your body eliminate excess hormones, cellular waste products and environmental chemicals, as well as reducing the amount of toxins that you are exposed to. This can help boost your energy, clear your mind, reduce aches and pains and make your belly flatter!

FOODS TO INCREASE:

Certain foods help to support your body’s natural detox pathways (especially liver health) and help to keep your hormones balanced.

1.  Vegetables:  Increase your intake of green leafy veggies, and vegetables of a variety of colors to get all the phytonutrients (plant compounds) that keep your cells at optimal function.  Try to choose organic whenever possible.

2.  Water:  make sure you stay well hydrated.  The enzyme systems involved in cellular metabolism don’t function well when you are dehydrated.
3.  Healthy fats:  Sources of good fats include avocado, coconut oil, raw nuts, extra virgin olive oil and seeds (like chia seeds, hemp seeds, raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds are all good choices).  The healthy fats help to protect your liver and are necessary for balanced hormones.
4.  Sulfur containing foods:  The sulfur in these foods is important for your liver detox pathways, especially for the production of glutathione – an important antioxidant made in your liver.    Good sources of sulfur include Allium vegetables like onion, garlic, shallots, chives and Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale.
5.  Seasonings:  cilantro, rosemary, ginger, turmeric and many of the other seasonings you have in your kitchen right now are natural detox support nutrients.  Use them!  Your food will taste better, and you will feel better.  Its a win-win!

FOODS TO AVOID:

 
Certain foods promote hormonal imbalances, and interfere with natural detox processes, so they should be avoided.
 
1.  Alcohol:  Sorry, but alcohol is very hard on your liver, so avoiding alcohol is important while you are detoxing.
2.  Sugar  Sugar drives inflammation and insulin resistance,  which cause blood sugar problems and weight gain.
3.  Hormone disrupting foods:  grains, corn, soy, and dairy should be temporarily avoided.
4.  Inflammatory fats:  vegetable oils like canola and safflower promote inflammation and hormone imbalance.  The worst of all are trans fats – hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats.  These promote diabetes, weight gain and other chronic disease.  They are predominantly found in deep fried foods, commercially baked goods, and in shortening and margarine. Choose healthy fats instead, and keep this up as a new habit!

AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS WHEN POSSIBLE:

 
Toxins are everywhere and it isn’t possible to avoid them all, but here are some simple things that you CAN do.
1.  Go through your personal care products (lotions, cosmetics, shampoo, etc).  Look for anything that contains parabens or artificial fragrance, and replace them.  Parabens cause hormone imbalances, and are possibly associated with an increased risk of cancer, including breast cancer
2. When you are shopping for cleaning products, look for “greener” choices, with less chemicals.  Even better, use natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda!
3.  Don’t microwave your food in plastic (especially avoid putting plastic wrap in the microwave).  Plastics contain phthalates which are a group of chemicals that also contribute to hormone disruption.  Heating them leaches out the chemicals and increases the risk.  Heat things in glass containers instead.

4.  Don’t char your meat.  When you cook on the grill and the edges of the meat become slightly charred, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are produced.  These are cancer causing compounds.  Cook your food at lower temperatures to avoid this.


TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

If you are constantly stressed out, your body’s detox pathways won’t function effectively.  Here are some stress reducing tips.

1.  Do deep breathing exercises.  Take some slow, deep belly breaths and concentrate on the air going in and out.  Do this for 5 minutes twice daily (you can even start out with 1 minute and it still works!)

2.  Learn to meditate.  A great app is called Calm – it is available for free on your phone!

3.  Start doing yoga.  Yoga stretches your muscles and relaxes your brain – so it helps both physically and emotionally – a two-for-one!


4.  Pet your dog.  Or cat.  Or watch your goldfish swimming.  Caring for a pet helps with stress reduction!

SWEAT

Besides your liver, your skin is another important organ of detoxification!

1.  Exercise helps you in many ways!  When you sweat, you are releasing toxins through your skin.  Make sure you shower promptly so they are not reabsorbed.

2.  A sauna is another good way to release toxins through sweat.  Look around – they don’t have to be expensive (I managed to find a barely-used sauna on Craigslist and I love it.  Especially when it is cold outside!)

ADD DETOX SUPPORT SUPPLEMENTS

Many “cleanses” at the health food store are mostly laxatives or fiber supplements that cause loose stools (you get lots of exercise by running to the bathroom all day!).  That’s not what we’re talking about…..

A detox program is supporting your liver function, which is different.  However, it IS important to avoid constipation while you are detoxing:  your liver is doing all that work to excrete unwanted substances into your gut and if you are constipated they are more likely to get reabsorbed back into your system, defeating the purpose.

My favorite detox supplements are included in our 6 Day Detox Kit. It contains everything you need, including a detox shake (OptiCleanse GHI), a probiotic (Probiomax daily), a fiber supplement, a liver/kidney/gallbladder drainage support supplement and a meal plan with full instructions!

If you want to join the Signature Wellness team in our annual January detox, you can call the office to get your kit – the price is reduced for the month of January, but the kits are very popular so call now before they run out!

You can reach us at 704-752-9346 or questions@signaturewellness.org.

Yours in Health!

Dr Deborah Matthew

woman sleeping without using medication

5 Unexpected Tips to Sleep Like a Baby (Without Drugs)

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So many people struggle to get a good night’s sleep.  In fact, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine about 30% of Americans have problems sleeping! 

Sleeping pills are available from your doctor, but they have side effects.  You can develop dependence on the medication, and sometimes sleeping pills can cause complex behaviors like sleep-walking, sleep-driving and sleep-eating. Even though they may help you get to sleep (and some sleep is better than no sleep), the pills don’t give you a “normal” sleep – you don’t go through the various stages of REM sleep the way you would if you were sleeping naturally.

The vast majority of over-the-counter sleep aids typically contain an antihistamine, called diphenhydramine, which is the same ingredient found in Benadryl.  Occasional use is ok, but regular use can actually predispose you to dementia!

Other side effects from over the counter sleeping pills include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble peeing (or not being able to pee)
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion (in older adults)

So you can see that relying on medicines to help you to sleep isn’t the greatest longterm answer.

So what can you do????

 

Woman with insomnia because of perimenopause

 

5  tips to help you sleep like a baby 

  1. Melatonin – This is a hormone that naturally signals the body to sleep.  When you are exposed to light at night, your natural melatonin production is suppressed.  It is ok to try melatonin (0.5-3mg) at bedtime to see if this helps your sleep.  It is especially food for shift workers who have unusual sleep schedules and also for  jet lag.
  2. Blue blocker sunglasses – Blue light waves at night are especially prone to shutting off melatonin.  You are exposed from light bulbs, electric clocks, computer screens, the TV and your cell phone.  You can turn on the  “night shift” setting on your phone and computer to help reduce the blue light they give off.  And please do your best to stay off screens in the evening.  In addition, you can wear blue-blocker sunglasses, which filter our the blue light waves.  Just wear them around your house after the sun goes down, and you’ll likely find that it is easier to fall asleep and you’ll get a better quality of sleep.  (Fun fact:  campfires, fireplaces and candles don’t give off much blue light)
  3. Light therapy.  In addition to avoiding blue light at night, another great idea is to get natural sunlight in the morning!  This helps your brain know that it is daytime, so you can be more alert, and also helps set your natural day/night circadian rhythm (which gets pretty mixed up in our modern world).  In the winter, when morning sunshine is harder to come by, you can use a light box in the morning for 10-15 minutes while you drink your coffee.  This type of lamp gives off full spectrum light (like the sun) to help reset your circadian rhythm (and help you sleep at night).  Another helpful side effect, is that the lamp can help prevent seasonal affective disorder.
  4. Weighted Blanket – This type of blanket is filled with glass or plastic beads, so it feels heavy and provides gentle pressure, like being held.  It helps to cut down on tossing and turning, and many people report having better quality sleep (although we don’t have much research on this just yet).  The weight of the blanket should be about 10% of your body weight, so if you weight 150lbs, you should choose a 15 pound blaket.  This is not recommended for small children due to concern about suffocation.
  5. Cooling mattress pad – This one could save marriages!  In my house, my husband likes arctic temperatures, but I’m freezing and miserable.    You can get a mattress pad that is temperature controlled (it can warm OR cool). It’s possible to cool one side of the bed, and leave the other alone.  Yay! No more fights over the thermostat!  While this is a great idea, it is expensive (there are different brands available, and they are typically hundreds of dollars).  But cheaper than a divorce ;-)

Sleep is important!

Your brain heals at night, and lack of sleep is a major promoter of weight gain and chronic disease.  Getting a good sleep is very important to your health!  A couple of other quick tips:

Hormone problems commonly cause sleep problems.  Thyroid issues, perimenopausal and menopausal hormone changes,  and cortisol problems can all prevent you from sleeping soundly.   Balancing your hormones can be an important way to get back to sleep.  

Keep electronics (especially those with WIFI) out of your bedroom.  Mounting evidence suggest that electromagnetic frequencies from these devices may interfere with sleep in some people.  You can turn off your router, put your phone on airplane mode overnight, or just keep them out of your room altogether.

If you have sleep apnea, none of these suggestions will be completely successful.  It is very important to get a diagnosis and the proper treatment.  If your spouse tells you that you snore or stop breathing periodically in the night (or if you have any suspicion at all) please get tested.

 

 

Hope these tips were helpful!

Sleep tight!

Dr Deb

Overweight woman with hormone problems

Could this common hormone problem (PCOS) be causing your weight gain?

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September is PCOS awareness month!

PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is the most common female hormone disorder, and affects about 1 in 10 women.

If you have PCOS, you’re in good company!  So do:

Fitness expert Jillian Michaels, from The Biggest Loser

Actress and singer, Lea Michele from Glee

Spice Girl and fashionista, Victoria Beckham

But many women who suffer with symptoms of PCOS have no idea!  (Many women have never even heard of it!)

Here are the five most common symptoms of PCOS

Acne – Many teenagers struggle with acne, but in PCOS it doesn’t go away just because you’re grown up.

Excess hair growth in places you don’t want it! (Like on the face and chest).  For some women this is because of their ethnicity, but sometimes PCOS is the cause.

Loss of scalp hair – While breaking out in pimples and having to wax a mustache may start young (in the teens or 20s) the hair loss becomes more noticeable later – in the 30s and 40s.  Hair loss is on the crown and temples, like in male pattern baldness.

Weight gain – not everyone with PCOS is overweight, but about 70% are.  Women with PCOS have a harder time losing weight and keeping it off.

Irregular periods – PCOS can cause infrequent periods (or no periods at all!) or you can get your period more often (even every couple of weeks).  Periods can be light and short or heavy and last a week or longer.  But predictable, “normal” periods are elusive for most women with PCOS.

Despite the name, you don’t have to have a history of ovarian cysts to have PCOS.  But often on an ovarian ultrasound, your gynecologist will see small cysts in your ovaries.  Sometimes you can develop a large cyst that ruptures and is very painful (you may think you have appendicitis, and you may even go to the emergency room because of the pain).  But many women with PCOS never have this experience.

What causes PCOS?

PCOS is a condition caused by hormone imbalances.  There is a genetic component (if you mom had PCOS, you have a greater chance of developing it as well).

The main underlying problems are

  1. Too much testosterone – your ovaries produce too much testosterone (and related “androgen” hormones, like DHEA) that result in the acne, hair growth, and male pattern hair loss.
  2. Insulin resistance – insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar.  In PCOS, your cells don’t use insulin properly, so you have to make more in order to get your blood sugar controlled.  Excess insulin is a problem because it is the “fat storing” hormone – hence the weight gain.  Women with PCOS have a significant risk of developing full blown diabetes in the future.  More insulin also triggers more testosterone production
  3. Ovarian dysfunction – a major problem in PCOS is that you don’t predictably ovulate.  The ovaries don’t release an egg every cycle.  If the egg isn’t released, that can result in a cyst forming.  Lack of ovulation also leads to the irregular periods (often no periods at all for long stretches, even years!).  Because you aren’t ovulating regularly, it can be more difficult to get pregnant, and you may need some help (we’ll talk more about this coming up).

This is a complex hormonal situation. Too much insulin causes you to make more testosterone.   Too much testosterone triggers you to make more insulin, and inhibits ovulation.  When you gain weight, because of the insulin, your body fat cells release inflammation compounds that make you more insulin resistant (so you have to make MORE insulin).  It’s a vicious cycle! 

Other possible complications of PCOS…

Women with PCOS have increased risks for other health conditions.

Gestational diabetes

Miscarriages

Metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity)

Sleep apnea

Type 2 diabetes

Fatigue

Anxiety and depression

What can be done for PCOS?

The first step is to see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.  There are blood tests that can be done to look at your hormone levels, and sometimes an ovarian ultrasound may be done to look for cysts.

Traditionally, women with PCOS end up on a lot of prescription medicines.

Birth control pills can regulate your periods and (since the block some of your testosterone) they also decrease acne.

Metformin is a diabetes medicine that helps control blood sugar.  It can help you to reduce the amount of insulin you produce, which may help stabilize your weight. 

Spironolactone is a blood pressure medicine that also acts as a testosterone blocker.  It can help reduce acne and facial hair growth.    

Clomiphene (Clomid) can help trigger ovulation, when you are ready to start your family.

The problem that I see with these prescription medicines, is that they are all trying to minimize your symptoms (which is great!) but they aren’t really fixing the underlying problem.

Many women have irregular periods as teens, and get started on birth control pills to regulate their period.  They stay on the pill for years, until they are ready to start their family, only to find that they don’t get their period (or at least not regularly) and they have a hard time conceiving. 

Are there any natural options?

Healthy lifestyle habits can help balance your hormones!

Exercise – regular exercise is very helpful for everyone, but especially for women with PCOS.  Studies have shown that women with PCOS who exercise regularly have more regular ovulation.  Exercise helps your cells use insulin more effectively (so you don’t have to make as much).  As your insulin level goes down, there will be less stimulation of testosterone production.  And of course exercise can help you lose weight!

Reduce stress – when you have stress, your body will make more cortisol (your main stress hormone) to help you cope.  Cortisol causes more problems with insulin.  It also causes you to gain more weight (especially on your belly, and belly fat is especially prone to releasing the inflammatory compounds that make insulin resistance worse) – so even more weight gain!

Healthy diet – we all know we should eat healthy.  For women with PCOS, healthy foods can be a game changer.  Because of the blood sugar problems, a low carb diet is especially helpful.  Avoid starches, like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, and instead focus on non-starchy veggies, fruit in moderation, healthy fats (like avocado, olive oil and nuts), and healthy protein, like fish.  Because PCOS is a permanent problem, going on a short term weight loss program isn’t going to permanently fix the problem.  Being too strict with your nutrition is unsustainable.  You don’t have to be perfect.  But watching the sugar and junk food in your diet, and eating a diet lower in carbs is really important to help you feel your best.

Lose weight – losing weight is harder for women with PCOS because your hormone pattern wants to cause weight gain.  But its not impossible!  And the good news is that even just losing 5% of your body weight can lead to very significant improvements in your hormone balance and in your symptoms!

Avoid toxins – we are all exposed to toxins on a daily basis.  Our liver helps us to flush the  chemicals from our system.  It appears that women with PCOS are “poor detoxifies”, meaning that your liver and other detox pathways don’t work as well.  Toxins can accumulate in your body and cause you to have problems, where your next door neighbor may be exposed to the exact same toxins and seem completely fine.  Many of these toxins are hormone disrupters (meaning that they interfere with how your hormones work, and since your’s weren’t doing their best in the first place, this can cause big problems. 

Do your best to avoid exposure to unnecessary chemicals by trying to use “green” cleaning supplies, look for healthier options for personal care products (especially avoid products containing parabens), and try to avoid the use of plastic (for example use glass or stainless steel water bottles instead). 

Nutritional supplements for PCOS

Myo-inositol is a nutrient that has been shown in medical studies to help improve blood sugar and increase ovulation

Berberine is an herbal supplement that helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol (as well as helping to balance the healthy bacteria in your gut)

There is hope!

If you have PCOS, becoming informed and an active participant in your health is important.  A good resource is the book PCOS SOS, by Dr Felice Gersh, who is an Integrative Gynecologist (and has PCOS herself).   

We see women everyday who are struggling with their symptoms, but it is possible to overcome the challenges and thrive!  

Yours in health,

Dr Deb