Do you have any concerns about neurological health/cognitive function including: ADHD, Parkinson’s, MS, Mood imbalances etc? Wondering why and how they happen and what you can do about it? Be sure to tune in for an in depth look at a functional medicine approach to these and more!

Currently, stimulant drugs (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD followed by antidepressants. Stimulants appear to boost and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters; however, these drugs do not provide the building blocks to replenish neurotransmitters and can cause deficiency especially in a young developing brain. These medications help improve the symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity; however, they have high risk for dependency and misuse is on the rise. Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells, or neurons, in an area of the brain that controls movement become impaired and/or die. Normally, these neurons produce an important brain chemical known as dopamine, but when the neurons die or become impaired, they produce less dopamine. This shortage of dopamine causes the movement problems of people with Parkinsons.

Along with neurotransmitter imbalances, other common drivers of neurological dysfunction include: inflammation, micronutrient deficiencies, toxicity, bacterial imbalance and even blood sugar balance! The gut and digestion is often a place to start when treating these pathologies. To learn more how what lab tests, supplements, and foods to consider, be sure to tune in!

Also in this Episode:

  • Mitochondrial function and Demyelination
  • The role of ketosis in Neurological conditions
  • Nutrient deficiency trends
  • And more!

Podcast Transcript:

A: Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 41 of the Naturally Nourished podcast. Today we are talking about neurological conditions and this is Ali Miller and I’m here with Carly.

C: Hey there.

A: And we are so excited to share this topic with you guys, I really can’t believe we have gotten past episode 20 without going through neurological health we’ve gone through a whole gamut of detox, the ketogenic diet, the role of hormones on the body, your adrenals. We just finished a killer episode I recommend listening to on heart health and cholesterol myths but neurological conditions are on the rise and we’ll talk about maybe why today but it does plague a good third of the population of our clientele so I’m hoping that you all can gain a lot of benefits from today’s topic.

C: Yes definitely. I think this can also be somewhat of an intimidating topic. I think it’s scary and so hopefully you leave with a little bit more of an understanding of what can be a root cause because even in finding the root cause you can find some comfort in knowing that means there’s most likely a solution so that’s really what we want to bring you in these podcasts is not just scare tactics, but also solutions.

A: I hope not.

C: Because sometimes it can be scary but if you’re not dealing with a neurological condition, most likely you know someone who is. So let’s start of by talking about what some of the most common drivers of dysfunction are.

A: So common drivers- go to my friend inflammation or maybe not my friend – my enemy, inflammation. Inflammation is one of the primary drivers. So neurological conditions, I guess, just to kind of describe what is a neurological condition, we’re talking about things like Alzheimer’s, neuropathy or any neurodegenerative condition, so neuropathy is the tingling sensation in the hands, feet or prosthesis. We’re also looking at demyelinating conditions and concerns things like MS, multiple sclerosis, we’re looking at Parkinson’s disease and all forms of brain connection as well as neuromuscular tend to kind of throw into this category. So, yes, inflammation is one of the driving causes. We see this throughout the gamut of all those different conditions that I mentioned. Another one is specific micronutrient deficiencies so we’ll talk about some of the common trends, those that play a role in nerve impulse and conduction as well as nerve receptor health and how the protective coating of our nerves can be destroyed by a pro-inflammatory diet or excessive blood sugar levels, and then the nutrients that can actually protect that coating which is also super important.

Toxicity is another thing that we see and that’s a big driver. So when we’re looking at exposure to agricultural chemicals in the foods system or just in the environment in general, that’s one that we really watch with the increase of neurological concern. Bacterial imbalance is another one that we’re looking at so when we’re talking about dysbiosis, also things like parasite have a huge tie on neurological function within the body so different forms of overgrowth of bad bacteria, or yeast overgrowth are going to play a role as well as having any biological invader in the system can play a big role. And then, I think I already mentioned but blood sugar balance is a big one so watching that hemoglobin A1c or 3 month blood sugar average, is a big precursor to neurological function. In fact, we’re calling Alzheimer’s disease type 3 diabetes and it’s because those ages, those advanced glycation end products are really tarry sugar like plaques in the brain so as the blood sugar balance gets out of control, we’re more prone to damage on the nerves where the myelin sheath gets demyelinated or the nerves get exposed or we get the tarred plaques and this is why side effects of diabetes, often, some are not diagnosed until they experience that neuropathy and that’s because those sugars have worn away that protective coating.

C: So there’s clearly a lot of drivers for neurological dysfunction but with functional medicine we often say when there’s a lot of things going on to start with the gut. In this case, with neurological dysfunction, why does the gut matter and how does the GI tract play a role?

A: So the gut- we call the gut the second brain of the body so the most neurological function is occurring in the brain of course, and when we’re talking about conditions, we like to identify between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system and so there’s the involuntary and voluntary nerve impulse within the body or response or reactivity in the body and that’s regulated by your central nervous system which is regulated by the brain. And so the brain plays a huge role but we know that the gut is the second brain of the body actually the secondary source of all neurological function occurs along the GI tract and many neurotransmitter production, most excuse me, neuromuscular production is done along the GI tract by bacteria. So there’s both the element of actually nerve conduction and nerve function influence in the GI tract and then the role of the gut bacteria playing a role on the production of the neurotransmitter that give feedback to the central nervous system so there’s a very tightly wound, or knit relationship, within the GI tract and neurological health.

And we see this connected with sterilizing influence of antibiotics driving depression or the beneficial influence of probiotics driving serotonin. We also see this with excessive stress driving diarrhea or constipation so a stressful event which influences the central nervous system and creates that excitatory stress response can either paralyze that valgus nerve, that big nerve that goes from the brainstem to the end of the colon, and that can create paralysis or slow peristalsis on the pumping of the GI tract to move particles downstream or it can create an osmotic flushing and an excitatory increase of the impulse, pushing foods out rapidly with water, and so on the day-to-day functionality the gut is integrally connected and, in fact, we say things like “I have a nervous stomach” and you actually do. You have so many nerves along that GI tract and that can influence your digestion and then again the backwards rebound effect is the digestion and your gut bacteria can influence your brain function.

C: I think that’s quite a leap that’ shard, probably, for some people to really understand that  what is happening along your digestive tract can actually influence your susceptibility to some of these scary neurological diseases so this really draws back to the point of functional medicine of its own body, it all ties together and no symptom is insignificant so you really want to look at your whole body status when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

A: I think what’s really interesting, I just read a research study on fecal transplants and they are primarily targeting neurological conditions and autoimmune disease, but specifically neurological autoimmune disease and they’re taking the feces or stool of healthy individuals and transplanting it to the bowel to inoculate or add different balance of bacteria in a different form than an oral probiotic would. And they’re starting to see favorable outcomes so it’s a pretty direct effect of how the gut influences that whole cascade in the body.

C: I remember the first time I heard that I was just blown away. That just sounds so intense but I actually heard Gwenyth Paltrow make a reference to that recently so it’s becoming more mainstream, I’m sure we have listeners who have heard of that by now. It’s pretty crazy to think about. So let’s try to focus in a little bit, because this could be a widespread, never-ending conversation, let’s pick two of the most common conditions and break those down a little bit further, let’s start with Parkinson’s.

A: Ok so Parkinson’s disease occurs where we typically think of excessive tremor or shaking in the musculoskeletal system and this is because nerve cells, or the neurons, of the brain that control movement in the body become damaged or impaired. And usually these neurons produce dopamine and dopamine plays a role with relaxation and reduction of that excessive movement so when these neurons die or become impaired, the dopamine production goes down and we start to see excessive movement or that shortage of dopamine can drive the tremors in the body. This is why the primary medication for this type of medication is going to be typically using different forms of dopamine relative drugs.

However, again, going back to the root cause we actually can look at neurotransmitter health and the metabolites and can do so successfully with clients working with amino acid therapies like L-tyrosine which helps with dopamine production and then looking at the microbiome and the gut production for dopamine to help with that and also, within that mindset of regulation and cause and effect, glutathione is a new therapy that we’re looking at specifically to Parkinson’s as the granddaddy antioxidant which plays a role with neurological health and finally GABA which plays a role with the nerve impulse so that reduces that excitatory reaction in the body.

C: So just to be clear, do you see these amino acid therapies and other interventions regulating neurotransmitters to be something that will slow the progression of the disease or is this actually found to reverse and eliminate Parkinson’s?

A: At that point we’re talking about slowing the progression there are research studies done on favorable-oh boogers, neurodegeneration is the breakdown of nerves, neurodegeneration, thank you, on neurological regeneration with things like intermittent fasting, high fat diets, and I think we’ll talk about macroscopic about the diet in a moment but there are some promising research studies on regeneration on the neurological system however I think they’re slow and steady and it’s more about reducing progression which can be done very successfully and then,  these amino acids and such are used to compensate for the state that the patient is currently in.

C: Ok.

A: So, like, if someone has neuro damage in the neurons that provide dopamine production, giving them that L-tyrosine is giving them a building block to build dopamine so you’re compensating for that low production.

C: Ok. And the other more common neurodegenerative disease that we want to talk about and highlight is MS and I know that one, I think in my experience clinically just seems to be a little bit more common, but we’ve worked with some MS clients more so that Parkinson’s mitochondrial demyelination.

A: So MS we think of mitochondrial dysfunction and then demyelination of our nerves as two of the big things. Typically diagnosed with an MRI and lesions in the brain and things like loss of vision can be seen as an indicator of a new MS diagnosis, loss of function in appendages, often with MS there’s one side of the body more than others but not always. And so when we’re looking at treating or addressing MS, we’re trying to prevent that demyelination or the damage to the nerves by supporting remyelination alpha lipoic acid is my number 1 go-to for that it’s both a fat and water soluble antioxidant that’s been shown favorable outcomes in research to aid with myelination and the myelin sheath. Then, also, we are looking at for the mitochondria, things like CoQ10 and we’re seeing in research the influence of CoQ10 and its food sources which would be something like organs, which the American diet is very low in, a lot of these compounds are going to help to support the mitochondria and I think of, with MS, Dr. Terry Wahls who is an affiliate within the IFM, the Institute of Functional Medicine and has Wahl’s protocol and Wahl’s Warriors and she is a physician, and MD, that was diagnosed with MS and was wheelchair bound and now rides a bicycle and is walking. She holds annual conferences and her protocol and her diet is talking about feeding your mitochondria, that’s one of her mantras is how to feed the mitochondria and she focuses on leafy greens, sulfur containing foods to aid with the keto process so she’s a big fan of mushrooms, garlic, alliums, just like we have in our Optimal Eating wheel, I swear we had that out. And also, she’s a bit proponent of organs for that reason so it’s an interesting dynamic and her diet is a really great plan for any of you that are looking for a new diagnosis and want an understanding of the mechanisms.

C: Yeah that is an amazing story and very inspirational and a lot of people follow that autoimmune diet just to heal a multitude of things. So let’s talk about dietary interventions, the big one that we talk a lot about in our clinic is ketosis.

A: Yeah so the ketogenic diet, we’ve spent a couple episodes now talking about and I highly recommend you listen to we have part 1 and part 2 on ketosis and then we have one of what is low glycemic versus ketosis but actually Dr. Wahls has 3 levels of her protocol and her more advanced level is a ketogenic diet. And the ketogenic diet uses fat as fuel and it typically uses the body’s fat stores as fuel, but you may have to consume exogenous or external high fat diet to use as fuel as well. The idea of this is when we can starve the body of glucose, or blood sugar, we’re knocking that harmful influence of that demyelination or that sugar wearing away at the nerve protection and you’re dealing with ketone bodies which are very neuroprotective. Ketone bodies are made by the liver and they tend to protect the brain. The ketogenic diet was started in research to support epilepsy which is also a neurological condition because those ketone bodies sit on receptors on the brain and reduce excessive excitatory neurological impulse. And so this is something that can be therapeutic for things like Alzheimer’s, it can even be therapeutic for non-neurological so things like Type 2 Diabetes, but specifically it does a high fat diet helps to coat the nerves, cool the nerves and improve neurological function and typically ketogenic diet is going to be very nourishing for your mitochondria it is going to be moderate in protein, focusing especially if it is a paleo type of approach, you’re going to get a lot of those nourishing fats and especially if you incorporate any of those organs, then you’re going to get a lot of those enzymes that help to fuel the energy factory cells in the body.

C: So ketosis is obviously one of the more important diets that we would recommend of neurological disease but for those who are intimidated by it what would you say is the next best thing – low grain, low sugar?

A: Yeah the lower glycemic diet and the reason why we pull out grains in addition to sugar, is that grains are sticky and they adhere to the GI tract so if we’re looking at also starving off or recalibrating, resetting the gut bacteria, we want to allow the gut to be plowed, if you will, and so if you continue to consume grain-based products or grains themselves, pasta, rice, you name it, you’re getting that sticky adherence to the GI tract and it’s difficult to reset your microbiome so if we’re looking to kill 2 birds by reducing the glycemic index, you’re reducing the sugars which are damaging but then if you’re reducing the starches in the forms of grain, you’re also going to be reducing that stickiness factor and allowing a good bacteria reset in the biome.

C: And it’s also just important to note that if you are going to work to increase the fats in your diet, the calories, even though we don’t like to talk about calories, they have to come out somewhere so it’s more beneficial to keep the protein in and do a low carbohydrate intake.

A: Absolutely and I think it’s warranted to discuss calorie restriction and neurodegenerative disease because calorie restriction has been very promising in allowing cellular repair, actually going 16 plus hours without food is really coming to be a very anti-aging process. A restriction of 20% or more of your calories from day-to-day consumption and then that window of that 16 plus hours of no food allows the brain the ability to regenerate and we’re not seeing that in a diet where we’re eating very frequently. So the higher fat allows blood sugar stability with fasting and that’s another thing to consider but like Carly mentioned, you go to give somewhere and that means not only carbohydrates but maybe even keeping that protein moderate, if we just add things – sorry dad, my dad loves to do that “I’m drinking my butter coffee.”

C: “Where’s my muffin?”

A: And oatmeal, yeah. “I added flaxseed.” Well that’s cool. And brown sugar and that’s- so yeah it’s not about just addition it’s that double edged sword of food as medicine where you have to add the therapeutics, reduce those culprits or proinflammatory or harmful ingredients.

C: Absolutely. So we talked in the beginning about one of the root causes of degeneration can be micronutrient deficiencies which is a common theme in a lot of what we talk about. A lot of the podcasts are going to talk about deficiencies because it’s a building block of your entire body so let’s hone in on what specific nutrients can drive healing of with deficiency, can drive disease.

A: Sure so I think touching on antioxidants is really important because we talked about inflammation and toxicity as  2 primary drivers so antioxidants are going to be the big that is going to reduce your oxidative damage or inflammatory process, they’re also going to reduce toxicity. So when I’m looking at antioxidants, I mentioned with the Parkinson’s example, glutathione. Glutathione is the granddaddy antioxidant and so all of your building blocks to little baby vitamin C all the way up including vitamin E, selenium, CoenzymeQ10, alpha lipoic acid, another really good, important one for nerve health all the way up to cysteine and glutathione. Glutathione is high in avocado. It is also one that helps to reduce free radical overload and can play a big role with coronary artery disease and inflammatory processes in joints so one of those that’s really beneficial one to assess and to replete. It’s controversial of the absorption fo glutathione which is why I mentioned in that research study they’re doing intramuscular injection so N-acetyl cysteine is another form of a supplement that is a precursor or building block to glutathione and this is something to consider as well.

Certain nutrients of focus, as well, would be B vitamins and  within the B vitamins because B vitamins are depleted with stress so it’s that connection back to that central nervous system. B vitamins also play a role with neurological impulse and so repleting yoru B vitamins can help the function of the nervous system in the body so the whole family of B’s and let’s specifically call out folate so we think of folate deficiency in prenatal health with neural tube defects because it plays a role with the neural tube production and folate plays a huge role with our overall nervous system, and also our neurotransmitter production.

It’s important to note that if you’re looking at a supplement form, you always want to take methylated forms of B vitamins and I feel like I’m always preaching to the choir but it’s true. You don’t want to take folic acid which is a synthetic, you want to ensure you’re taking methyltetrahydrofolate. Basically just look for the letters M,E,T,H,Y,L – methyl and then cobalamin would be methylated B12 or methylfolate is going to be the methylated folate. This ensures that if you do have a genetic predisposition or mutation to actually using the folate, you’re able to absorb and it’s bioavailable so it’s available for the body to use.

C: And you can rest assured too, if you’re taking any of the supplements from we only put on there very sound companies that are regulated and third party assessed and they’re not going to have a B vitamin that’s not methylated on there, typically.

A: Yes so B vitamins, super important, magnesium, so if we’re talking mineral category I would focus on magnesium for sure. Magnesium is going to play a big role, especially in the form of magnesium glycinate. Magnesium glycinate is the neuromuscular form. We have a supplement in the Naturally Nourished line called Relax and Regulate and Relax and Regulate is focused on sleep for those that have insomnia or difficulty shutting down because the glycine can help with relaxation, it converts to GABA in the brain which can reduce anxiety. And then we also in that product have a little bit of inositol with can help with the B family production. And the mag glycinate can also help with smooth muscle relaxation so it can help with preeclampsia.

It can help with tremors, it can help with tension, aches and restless leg so especially if we’re talking about Parkinson’s and neuromuscular excitatory reactions, you’re aiding with reducing anxiety and stress overdrive which was beating up that dopamine production and then now you’re aiding with relaxation, both on the muscular function, which was going to help with the symptom management but it’s also going to help with the resolution of that driving cause which is that depletion of dopamine.

C: And the inositol also helps with myelination doesn’t it?

A: It isn’t inositol is correlated with that nerve sheath. The myelin sheath is the protective coating that’s woven around the nerve ends, so, yes, the inositol would be in that B vitamin family. So beyond minerals we’re looking at amino acid metabolites so carnitine is going to be a metabolite that plays a big role with our fatty acid absorption and utilization. It’s highest concentrated in the cardiovascular system but this does play a really big role with the body’s use of fat so we talked about the benefits of fat as fuel, but also fat as a protection of the neurological system. Another one I would highlight is serine. Serine is really rich in grassfed whey. Serine crosses the blood brain barrier when it’s phosphorylated so phosphatidylserine is the term used – the only thing to be mindful of with serine is it suppresses cortisol, so, gain, the idea of if you’re overstressed serine’s going to mellow you out it can help with insomnia, it can help with anxiety but if you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue then serine might actually drive more apathy, low energy, or even mimicking depressive mood so that’s just one to be watching in that phosphatidyl serine form because it does cross that blood brain barrier so it can influence day-to-day mood.

Serine is one that I would more so go to with the food as medicine intervention of grassfed whey. And then finally glutamine. Glutamine is one of our best friends, so unlike glutathione, which sounds very similar and is an antioxidant, glutamine is an amino acid that is a building block and a fuel source for the enterocytes, or the gut cells. So if we’re connecting, again, the gut to the brain and neurological function, we want to make sure that the gut is tight and the gut is not inflamed and doesn’t have ulcerations, we want to repair any damage so getting glutamine in the system is going to coat and soothe the GI tract and rebuild any potential damage that was going on which will help with creating more playing field for neurotransmitter production.

C: So that might sound overwhelming that you need to eat all of these things and not to explain the obvious, but this is why it’s a perfect example of why it’s important to rotate the diet. If you’re someone who has broccoli and chicken every night maybe a green salad, you’re missing all of the nutrients in your bright purple cabbage and your red tomatoes, we simply preach to eat the rainbow and eat all the different colors so that you’re ensuring you’re getting all these amino acids, vitamins, and minerals in your diet and not just sticking to the same kitchen sink style.

A: Yeah I think that’s so true and beyond the variety in your vegetables and fruits, you want to think about getting ample protein. A lot of Americans are actually protein deficient, a lot of us are overfed on the carbohydrate department, but malnourished in healthy fats which we’ve harped on enough today so ideally getting half an avocado, nuts and seeds, your good quality fats as spreads and oils and then protein, though, is super important for all of these amino acid building blocks so glutamine, serine, all of these compounds are going to be provided in proteins so getting a biological or animal based protein at all of your meals is is really important for optimizing your leaht.

C: Absolutely. So now that we’re aware of how these diseases start, some nutrients to really focus on, if someone wants to run some labs to figure out what’s going on with them, which ones would you recommend where would you start with a client, Ali?

A: So I would definitely start with the micronutrient test because this is going to provide us an assessment of 35 different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This is a way that we can see trends in a body as well. So if I see someone has low choline and low folate and also low oleic acid and I’m going to start looking at “Ok is their liver working appropriately, are they absorbing fat, is there bile flow?” So we can work with the function of the organ that could be driving the deficiency. We can also look trends of where to prioritize supplementation because we don’t preach “just take everything” it’s not like  a thing where “oh I heard this is good for me so I should buy it.” It’s good to look at data because some nutrients compete for absorption, so by taking zinc you could be driving more copper deficiency and so forth. So it’s really important to get an assessment and touch base.

I recommend running a micronutrient test every year as an annual wellness checkup. We have some cool options, there is an Advanced Functional Medicine Prime package which noroprotates the micronutrient test with an initial consultation and a follow-up and a copy of my CookBook signed, but that’s just a really good jumpstart in for whole body halth reagladneds of just neurological. And then the micronutrient test you can see more about under Labs we’ll put a link in the show notes but, overall, we’ve seen trends like someone that had hair thinning and insomnia and belly fat and anxiety and they’re taking 3 different medications and come to see, and let’s say prediabetes, and their biotin is deficient so it’s like by repleting the deficiency we can work upstream to influence a whole gamut of medical conditions.

So micronutrient test first. I think I’d also consider neurotransmitter testing and this is because the role of, again, serotonin, GABA, dopamine, glutamate, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, all of these neurotransmitters have either excitatory or inhibitory influence, either to overdrive neurological impulse and activity or undershoot those signals. And so checking in on these values in really important to try to provide strategically what amino acids might be needed as building blocks to replete, and then if we need to intervene with adaptogenic herbal blends or maybe that serine to reduce excessive cortisol so maybe considering a neuroadrenal panel or just the neurotransmitter panel would be helpful for you as well.

C: Ok and then you mentioned in the beginning that inflammation being a root cause to these degenerative diseases, so probably just getting your inflammatory markers check would be helpful.

A: Yeah I think the Metabolic Panel would be a great option for that it’s going to look at the C reactive protein, it’s going to look at your fasting insulin, your hemoglobin A1c so all the prediabetes risk factors, and heart disease risk factors which will also take beyond those 2 concerns, whole body health into account and generalized inflammatory risk by looking at the omega 3:6 ratio as well.

C: And finally toxicity we could probably connect toxicity to every imbalance so it’s always a good place to start if you don’t want to do testing, if you don’t want to take supplements, you probably need some supplements with the detox, but a medical detox is always an amazing start to place -place to start.

A: I was going to say – we’re both amazing today. We both need some matcha. I was going to say rather than doing heavy metal testing off the bat, I would recommend doing our 10 Day Detox and following along with the supplementation you’re going to get high dose glutathione with that, you’re going to get enzymes and compounds that support your liver, you’re going to get compounds that support liver kidneys, as well as antioxidants and the amino acids that drive that phase 2 encapsulation excretion of toxins so at least that’ll be a baseline support and then if you want to look further into toxicity, wait about 2 weeks for a reset post your detox and then you’ll consider running an assessment for heavy metals or something.

C: So in summary it sounds like always start with the diet, lower toxicity, increase protein, low to moderate carbohydrates, look into testing if you’re not getting resolution from a clean diet and working with a practitioner individually is always going to be an amazing place to start with something like this.

A: Especially if you get a new diagnosis, I think, it can be really scary and we can be overburdened and overwhelmed with Google and blogs and misinformation out there so working with a functional medicine practitioner that can do this advanced testing, remember I only work with patients virtually so I can meet with you literally wherever you are and if you are in the Greater Houston area, I recommend you coming into the clinic Naturally Nourished and work with one of our dietitians on staff, Carly included, and get a great baseline of where you’re at and how to prioritize all of this information.

C: Absolutely so thanks for tuning in to podcast number 41. We look forward to hearing from you to hear exactly what you want to hear from us in the next coming episodes, we’ve got some good topics coming on hormonal toxins and how to avoid them, and then dysbiosis in the microbiome which I think we could probably talk for 3 horus about.

A: Yes thanks for tuning in guys, be well.


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