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Dr. Stephanie Gray is the author of Your Longevity Blueprint. On this episode, we talk about nutritional supplementation, hormones optimization, and how to find a doctor to help you stay healthy.
Allan (1:06): Dr. Gray, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Gray (1:10): I’m excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Allan (1:12): Your book is Your Longevity Blueprint, and I really enjoyed the read. A lot of great information and put in a way that I think is very understandable for quite a few people. But the book in my opinion is not actually about so much longevity as, how do we maximize our health and wellness so that we actually enjoy living longer?
Dr. Gray (1:37): Well said. Yeah, I would agree. I was really trying to create some nine actionable steps for readers to optimize their health, because unfortunately many individuals don’t even know functional medicine exists. They don’t know that testing options exist to help them optimize their nutritional status or help them detoxify their body or increase their hormone levels. So I was hoping this book would really introduce the audience to functional medicine.
Allan (2:03): Yes. And I think most of us go to a doctor when we’re sick, we’re not feeling well, and the doctor asks what are you symptoms and you tell them fatigue, brain fog, several other things that are kind of going on in your life, not sleeping well, maybe some migraines. And the doctor says, “Well, here’s some Prozac”, or whatever. It’s a symptom-diagnosis. It’s like there’s a chart in the back of their office, or maybe they’ve memorized it. If they’re thinking you have this – this is how you fix it, with some form of medicine. But the reality is, medicine isn’t really designed to fix us. It’s designed to fix a symptom.
Dr. Gray (2:50): I totally agree. We need conventional medicine, especially unfortunately if you get in an accident. We have great emergency care here in the United States. In my book I reference Dr. Patrick Flynn’s analogy that conventional medicine is more of the fire department approach. So if you have a fire, conventional medicine can help you put out that fire, but really only using two tools – drugs and surgery. Unfortunately, when you have a symptom like fatigue that isn’t really an emergency, conventional medicine doesn’t necessarily help you get to the root cause of the problem. Like you mentioned, a lot of times they’ll just recommend taking an antidepressant or a stimulant medication, when that’s really not getting to the root cause. It’s not really explaining the “Why” to the fatigue. That’s what makes functional medicine different – we do explore the “Why”. We try to explore if the patient has low thyroid or low sex hormone status or maybe their nutrition is terrible, but we want to get to the root cause of the problem and not just give the patient that Band-aid approach to their health care.
Allan (3:50): It’s very interesting to me. Hippocrates said it a long, long time ago – “Let food be thy medicine.” And now it’s changing. It feels like it’s changing – more and more understanding that the food which we put in our mouths in volumes can do a lot more for our health than the one little pill or 12 little pills that we’re taking over the course of a day. I think a lot of that is because when we’re fueling our body and we’re building our body with better stuff, we end up being better. But a lot of folks don’t actually recognize that they have nutritional deficiencies. A lot of my clients will come to me and say, “Allan, should I be supplementing with something? Should I be taking an iron supplement, or should I be taking vitamin B or C?”, or whatever the cool thing is today. And my short answer is, “I have no clue, because I don’t have your blood test to see if there are any deficiencies. I don’t really know the quality of your food to know if you’re getting most of the vitamins you need. I don’t know if you’re getting outside to get enough sun exposure to have the vitamin D that you need.” Can you talk a bit about the nutritional deficiencies and some of the symptoms we might be seeing some of the things we can do, what to look for with supplements? Because you said it in a book, one a day actually isn’t one a day. You would need to take four of them just to get what your basic bodily needs are. But even then I’m not sure we actually get all of that from that one a day, just based on total quality and everything else. I know that’s a lot to throw out there, but could you tell us a bit about nutritional deficiencies and how we can recognize them and what we can do?
Dr. Gray (5:35): Sure. If you don’t mind, I might go off on a little tangent here. I think first we should clarify why we are so nutritionally deficient, because a lot of my patients say, “Why did my grandma never have to supplement, but I do?” Sadly, our world has really changed. The nutritional value that used to be in an apple grown in your grandma’s backyard unfortunately was better, much higher in nutritional content as compared to an apple today. Our apples might be three times the size, but they’re not packing that nutritional punch that apples used to. Unfortunately, our food sources are just not as nutritionally dense. We have very deficient soil, and even the USDA agriculture figures will show the decline in over 40 crops that they’ve been tracking for years. We know that the food that’s growing in this deficient soil is now deficient. Soil should be rich in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, producing in foods the same, and that’s unfortunately not always the case. I even have patients who are growing their own food in their backyard and it’s organic, and the foods still, again, don’t pack that nutritional punch. That’s not our fault, but unfortunately that’s working against us.
The processing of foods also depletes nutrients. Half the time the food we’re eating has been harvested or picked days, weeks, even months before we’re eating it. And so, as you can imagine over time the nutrient content in those foods is declining. And then sometimes we even cook with really high heat, high temperature, and that’s blasting our foods, destroying some of the nutritional value. So, we’re unfortunately set up to be nutritionally deficient. And then when we add things like some lifestyle choices – if we choose to consume alcohol or caffeine, or smoke – those are all going to use up or deplete our body of nutrients. And if we take medications, many of my patients are shocked to know that the medications they’re taking are depleting them of nutrients. Many individuals are aware that drugs like statin medications for cholesterol can deplete CoQ10. And CoQ10 is a very important antioxidant in the body. It can help us with energy, and many patients who are taking a statin medication end up with myalgias or muscle pains, because their body has been robbed of that CoQ10. And that’s just one example. All sort of medications, even things like birth control, one patient might feel is just a basic medication, actually does deplete B vitamins and even magnesium.
So, very quickly, I just wanted to go over some of the reasons why we unfortunately are so low on nutrients. Then you add maybe exercise, or if you have a very stressful life, and again, what’s happening – your body is using up those nutrients. So, unfortunately we now, in our world today, need to supplement more than ever before, more than our grandma decades ago. That’s part of why we need the nutrients. But in my book, Your Longevity Blueprint, I try to describe nutrients as working in our body like putting a key in a keyhole. The nutrients are going to unlock certain processes in the body. I tell patients to think of nutrients as what you need, literally, to produce energy in that Krebs cycle, if you remember that from high school science class. You need nutrients to make hormones, hormones that make you feel good. So you just don’t want to be set up to be nutritionally deficient. The list of symptoms, I could go on and on, but fatigue is obviously one symptom. We could go nutrient by nutrient and discuss the symptoms that can exist.
Allan (9:25): For the core ones – vitamin D, C, B, the core ones. Maybe some of the minerals. I think this would be quite valuable, because I do believe that people will know if they don’t have enough iron, they may feel a little anemic and their energy will be low. Sometimes the doctor will pick that up in a blood test and say you’re low in your iron. That’s a fairly common test that a standard doctor would do, but it’s not often that a doctor will do a full blood panel to look at how deficient you might be in these various vitamins. So I think us having some basic recognition of when we might be deficient in a vitamin, so we know we at least need to start doing the diagnostic work.
Dr. Gray (10:03): Sure. So, B vitamin deficiencies are very common. B vitamins are what help our adrenals, they help us adapt to stress, they help us produce energy. One of the first supplements I’ll have a patient, especially an athlete start if they’re really tired is just a B Complex to see if that’s helping. Some patients can even have symptoms in the nervous system, so if they’re getting tingling, burning symptoms, whatnot, a lot of times they will need the B vitamins as well.
Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to fatigue. Actually I live in Iowa, so many of my patients are very low in vitamin D, just because we don’t have the sun year round. Patients who are low in vitamin D are going to be more likely to get sick, get the flu through that flu season, so that’s one of the first nutrients we try to optimize in our patients come fall time, so they can get their level high to protect them through the winter. I’ve had even patients young, in their 20s and 30s have fractures, and it’s not normal to have fractures when you’re young. One of the first things we’re then looking at in those patients if they end up with osteopenia or osteoporosis, is their vitamin D status. Sometimes, shockingly, even young patients are very low in vitamin D. Vitamin D helps greatly with bone density, so not just in the young populations, but also in the older populations we want to make sure we’re increasing vitamin D. Vitamin D greatly helps with mood, so if we think of seasonal affective disorder through the winter, that makes sense. Patients get more depressed when there’s no sunlight, they’re not getting their vitamin D through the winter. Those are some of the symptoms of low vitamin D.
And then you mentioned vitamin C. Vitamin C is great for immune support also, so that’s typically also a nutrient that I’m going to recommend through the winter, just to help support the patient for not getting sick. Many patients will bruise very easily, so one of the first nutrients we’ll recommend for them is also vitamin C. Vitamin C helps strengthen the capillaries so that they don’t bruise as easily. And then, do you want me to keep going?
Allan (12:08): A couple of the minerals I think would be valuable too, because there are some of them that are quite important and if we’re not monitoring those, there’s going to be some risk there.
Dr. Gray (12:19): So magnesium is probably the most important mineral in my opinion. It’s important for I think, over 300 different enzymatic pathways in the body. I recently wrote a blog on magnesium and all the different types, picking the best type of magnesium and whatnot. But I use magnesium in my patients because it’s a very calming, relaxing hormone. So if they’re having any symptoms of overstimulation, meaning anxiety, if they can’t sleep, if their legs feel kind of creepy crawly, if they’re having restless leg symptoms or cramping in the legs, we’ll give them magnesium to calm down the cramps or calm down the mind or calm down the heart. So magnesium can be extremely beneficial, even to calm the gut. If patients have constipation, magnesium can help relax the bowels to facilitate daily bowel movements in the morning. Magnesium also helps produce your hormones. So you don’t want to be low in magnesium if you have low hormones, which we all do. Hormones decline as we age, so supplementing with magnesium can help prevent some of that loss.
Allan (13:4): I was really happy in the book that when you got into the discussion of hormones, you didn’t go just one way or the other. I’ve seen so many books where they say, “Let’s focus on the sex hormones because that’s what people care about.” And then other people say, “I’m dealing with people that have thyroid issues, so they’re looking for a book on thyroid issues.” It’s not very common that someone will say, “Let’s just look at this whole thing together.” To me, they’re the one to punch vitality and feeling and being the best you you can be. If your sex hormones are not optimized, you don’t feel as good as you could, and obviously if you don’t have the thyroid hormones working, you’re not going to have the energy level that you need to have to do the things you want to do. So, to me they’re both just as important. I understand when someone has an issue on one side or the other, they’re going to be more focused on that, but if we’re coming at this looking at it from a “How to stay as healthy as we can” versus “How do I cure illness”, I want to look at both. And I’m glad that you did. Could you take a little bit of time to talk about hormones? How do we actually go about optimizing our hormones so that we can be the best we can be?
Dr. Gray (14:38): Sure. I think the first step is to really know your body and know, “What symptoms am I experiencing? Have I had hair loss? Have I had brain fog? Am I more cold? Have I had weight gain or more fatigue?” Those are all low thyroid symptoms. If you’re thinking you may have some low hormone symptoms, find a provider who can help you order a comprehensive hormone panel to get your levels checked to see where you’re at. And I would love it if my patients would have had levels checked in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, so we could track subtle changes, any subtle decline that’s happening each decade or half decade, whatnot. Sometimes patients’ levels are really low end, and I don’t know if that’s their baseline, I don’t know if that’s where they’ve been for years, or if their levels are barely in the reference range, is this a dramatic decline? Years ago, were they very high end of normal and now they’re low end of normal? So, it’d be really nice to be able to track those levels over the years so patients could detect if their levels are declining.
But having comprehensive thyroid hormone levels done is extremely important. I describe this in Chapter 6 of my book. TSH is thyroid-stimulating hormone, which should be checked. But I said my book it stands for “too slow to help”, because by the time TSH is high, many times T4 and T3 are very low. So you only have T3 receptors in your body. T4’s whole role in life is to convert to T3, and many doctors never check T3. They only check T4, and if T4 looks good they assume the patient’s good to go. And that’s not the case. So, a big take home is to make sure you have a free T3 checked – that’s the gas pedal on your metabolism and your energy. You want your gas on hard. You don’t want your reverse T3, which is the brake pedal on hard. You want those flipped. It’s also important to have the reverse T3 checked, and then thyroid antibodies. If thyroid antibodies are high, that indicates your body could be attacking itself. Those are some autoimmune markers. The more that your body attacks the thyroid, the more thyroid function is going to decline. Even if your thyroid function is holding steady but your antibody levels are high, that’s great information to have to know, “I need to stay ahead of this to prevent my thyroid hormone levels from further declining.” I can speak to sex hormones as well, but just from a thyroid standpoint, those are great tests to have your provider run, to give you a gauge on where you’re sitting today, to know if low thyroid is a problem for you currently.
Allan (17:18): Okay. And then on the sex hormones, how would we go about optimizing those?
Dr. Gray (17:25): Again, the first step is to get your levels tested. I think a lot of women think they don’t need testosterone, but actually they do. I have women very young who already have zero testosterone due to big stressors in their life or whatnot. Sometimes it’s difficult to maybe admit that we lose hormones as we age, but men aged 30 to 70 are going to lose 1% to 5% of their testosterone every year, and women aged 20 to 40 lose 50% of their total testosterone production. So it’s important to have testosterone levels checked in both men and women, and also estrogen levels checked in both men and women. A lot of guys think they don’t have estrogen, but many men convert their testosterone over to estrogen, and that’s what men don’t want. We need to have lower estrogen, higher testosterone in men. So, checking those hormones is important. And then in women also checking progesterone. Progesterone’s the most soothing, calming hormone, great for sleep. Many women in their 30s and 40s get put on antidepressants or anxiety medications, and really the root cause of the problem was low progesterone, but no one ever assessed it. So, asking your provider to check estrogen, progesterone, testosterone is a great start.
Allan (18:40): Cool. And then from there you can decide how you want to address some deficiencies or some low numbers through the help of your healthcare provider.
Dr. Gray (18:51): Yes. And there are natural ways to boost hormones. We could talk about optimizing, again, nutritional status. Also, many times herbs can be very effective for patients who haven’t had hysterectomies, who still have all their organs. Using herbs can help to produce hormones. But in my clinic we do specialize in natural hormone replacement therapy for both men and women, and there are lots of options for those patients.
Allan (19:16): One of the things I really do want to recap here is that your standard doctor, bless their heart – they are going to go in and try to take care of you when you go and say you’re not feeling well. You may go in for regular checkups, so they’ll do the normal stuff, but the normal blood panel is going to be looking at your cholesterol and maybe they’re looking at some organ function, particularly if they know there’s some lifestyle things going on. They may check some bits and pieces of the data that you might want to have. But when you’re really looking at this, I think it’s worth at least once a year, maybe once every two years, if you need to push it off, is to go out get a full-on panel. What are my potential nutritional deficiencies, what are my potential hormone issues?
And I say this even if you don’t feel like you have symptoms, because one of the funny things is, you might think you’re normal – you might think, “This is my normal day. I wake up, I have trouble sleeping, I feel a little groggy in the morning. I do my coffee and I’m good to go for the day, as long as I drink coffee until 3:00 in the afternoon.” And that’s the normal day. And you say that’s normal, but you get yourself tested and you realize that your testosterone is a little low, perhaps your vitamin D is a little low, and your vitamin B, particularly B12 is low. If we actually supplement for these things, now you start to realize what actual normal should feel like, because you get back up to stability and you get up to where you’re now optimized.
Sorry to interject there, but I think so many people just go in and say, “Well, my doctor…” And the generation before us I think was so much more, “My doctor said it so it’s the absolute truth.” I think we have to be engaged as a part of our health care. The normal doctor isn’t necessarily inclined to want to go that route initially because he has seven minutes with you. He has to figure out what’s wrong with you, he has to prescribe medication, and then he has to move on to the next patient. But a holistic functional doctor is really going to have more opportunity and a more holistic view of health. I need to go find that person because my current doctor in my own town might not be that person. How do I find a contractor? In your book you say “contractor”, like doing the house stuff, but how do I find the right person to treat me for optimal health?
Dr. Gray (21:54): Good question. That’s the topic of the last chapter in my book. My book is about building a healthier body using functional medicine. So just to clarify to the audience here, I’m comparing how we maintain our home – we’re mowing the lawn, we keep hair out of the drain, we make sure we’re changing our furnace filters. We do all these things for maintenance for our home, but yet we don’t always do, or we don’t always know even what maintenance is available for our body. So, the last chapter of the book I discuss finding a contractor, who I describe as being a functional medicine provider, to help them rebuild and repair their body. We need conventional docs. If you have strep throat, if you have an emergency, we need them to be available, but unfortunately they don’t have a lot of training in nutrition. So again, they may tell you all your labs are normal – your blood count, your kidney, liver function, your cholesterol, as you were referring to, but they have never looked really deep. They haven’t really explored what a functional medicine provider could explore.
In your area usually, hopefully, you could find either an anti-aging, a regenerative or a functional medicine provider. You can search by your zip code on either the A4M, which is the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s website, or the IFM – Institute for Functional Medicine website, and hopefully find someone. Even if they’re not real local, a lot of these providers will see patients virtually, over the phone, or you can make a day trip to go see one. In a lot of the larger states, functional medicine is growing very rapidly. So, Florida, California, Texas, are states that are going to be easier to find providers than in the Midwest, where I’m from. There are probably only five or six in my state. But they are available; you just have to be able to find them. And they have the training. I have masters in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine. Many of my colleagues have this training where they’re more understanding, they interpret the labs differently, and they have access to functional medicine labs. My primary care provider unfortunately can’t order a nutritional analysis; it’s just not available through our local hospital systems. But I have a contract with the functional medicine lab so I can run a fancy nutritional analysis on my patients. It’s 20 pages of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants. We can literally test glutathione levels, which is amazing, and even looking at their omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood. So, the unique thing about these functional medicine providers is that they do have some specialized testing that can really optimize your health. You just have to find the provider to work with.
Allan (24:33): Yes. I think that’s so critical because we can’t depend on the current medical system to make us well. If we’re injured, if we’re sick – yes, they’ve been doing that, they know how to do that. But if you really want to optimize health, you really want to feel well all the time and you really want to have longevity, like you say in Your Longevity Blueprint – but the reality is if you want to have a wonderful life and really enjoy it – these are some valuable tests for you to check out. Even if you’re not really having major symptoms – I do want to stress – get out there every once in a while and find out what your numbers are. I’m not going to advertise any of them here, but you can go look online. There are some sites that you can actually do full panels yourself. You just go to a local lab and they’ll draw. So a local phlebotomist will draw it and they’ll send it off to these labs, and they’ll do a full workup for you and send it to you. And it’s written in plain English to help you interpret what you see. At that point you can either have a conversation with your primary physician, or you can seek out a professional that’s going to understand what you’re going through and what you want to try to accomplish. Dr. Gray, thank you so much for being a part of the 40+ Fitness podcast. If someone wanted to reach out and get to know more about you, where would you like for me to send them?
Dr. Gray (25:55): They can check out YourLongevityBlueprint.com/40. That is a link to a page on my website where we’re offering a 10% off storewide purchases code. The code is thanks40. You can certainly check me out there. I do have a free PDF to download on three top tips to boost your hormones naturally. I talk about reducing stress, reducing your toxin exposure and fixing nutritional deficiencies. And you can certainly see my book in our book trailer video right on that website – YourLongevityBlueprint.com/40.
Allan (26:31): And as you said, there’s a lot more in the book than we could ever, ever hope to cover in a podcast. So, do check out the book. There’s a lot of valuable information in there for you to kind of understand what’s going on in your body, and some great actionable items for you to use in building your health and fitness. As I said before, Dr. Gray, thank you for being on the podcast.
Dr. Gray (26:52): Thank you. And to all the listeners – know there’s hope. If you don’t feel right, there’s an answer. Find a provider who can help you get those answers.
Allan (27:05): I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Gray. I certainly did. Really, a lot of good information there. The book is well worth the purchase, so I would encourage you to go out and get Your Longevity Blueprint. It’s a really, really good book. It’ll teach you a lot about yourself and help you be a big partner and big lead – the driver in your wellness journey.
So the last week I went to Panama – actually, it was an island set called Bocas del Toro. Spend some time with my wife, just kind of unwind, enjoy ourselves, learn a little bit about the place and the culture. It really does interest me, and maybe might end up being a place that we spend a lot more time than we had originally thought. We’re looking into that; more on that later.
I wanted to also let you know before we go that this is going to be the last week that I’m going to leave open the waiting list for The Wellness GPS. If you want to be a part of the launch team, the team that goes through and does their Wellness GPSs with me walking you through step by step, you need to go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS. If you’re not on that list, you’re probably not going to hear about this because the list is filling up and there’s almost enough people on there now that it will fill the 20 slots. I can only work with 20 people because this is hands-on. I’m working with you daily for the seven-day challenge as we go about putting together our Wellness GPS. If you’re interested, you need to go there today and sign up – 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS. I’ll announce it there when I open it, it’s going to be open until the 20 slots are filled, so it’s probably just going to be people that are on this waiting list that are going to get the opportunity to be a part of this challenge. It’s not an open challenge. It’s going to be open only to the individuals that are on this list until I fill the 20 slots, and then we’re done. So again, 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS.
And then finally, I know I’ve been talking about it for the past few weeks, but we’re working on getting the final bit of manuscript together for The Wellness Roadmap book that I’ve been working on. And I’ve also put out a base site for the book. You can go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com to learn more about the topic matter of the book, learn a little bit about me. I am setting up a mailing list that’s going to be specific for the book. You won’t be getting other mailings from me; this is going to be my launch team. When you write a book, it’s really not an individual thing. Yes, I do spend a lot of time alone, writing and editing and typing and redlining. I’m not the most efficient writer out there, so it does take me a little while. So there’s a lot of alone time – don’t get me wrong – but launching a book is really a team sport, and I need you on my team. I need you to help me make this book a success, and the way we do that is we coordinate our work, we coordinate what we do. And the best way for me to do that with you would be through this mailing list. I will only mail you on that mailing list information about the book, the progress on the book, things like that. But I won’t be mailing you other stuff. So this is a very private, single-source, single-use email list. If you want to be a part of the launch team, please go sign up today. You can go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com, and at the bottom of that page you’ll see where you can give me your name and email and I can make you a part of the launch team. A launch like this can be a lot of fun, working together, getting things done. You’ll get some special discounts on the book, you might get some additional freebies and bonuses that I can throw in there. I’ll be looking at what I can do and what I can’t do, but this is the group that’s going to help me launch the book and make it a success, and I want to do as much for you as I possibly can. So go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com and go ahead and join the launch team today. Thank you.
Dr. Darin Ingles is the author of The Lyme Solution. He is a respected leader in natural medicine with numerous publications, international lectures, and more than 26 years of experience in the healthcare field. His practice focuses on chronic immune disorders including Lyme disease, autism, allergies, asthma, recurrent or persistent infections, and other immune problems. He uses diet, nutrients, herbs, homoeopathy and immunology to help his patients achieve better health.
Allan (4:00): Dr. Ingels, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Darin Ingels (4:05): Thanks for having me, Allan.
Allan (4:07): The book, The Lyme Solution – I admitted this offline to you and I guess I’ll go ahead and make this admission now – I have zero experience with Lyme disease. I’ve never known anybody that’s had it personally, I’ve never seen anyone experience it. So I am coming from a position of complete ignorance, if you will. But I think that’s really important, because as it gets warm and I want my clients out and about, I say, “I want you out there getting into nature, I want you moving around, I want you experiencing nature, getting the sunshine, enjoying the outdoors.” That’s a big function of health. At the same time, there is an exposure out there, and without fully understanding the nature of that exposure, it’s this scary thing. “What if I get bit by a tick, what happens then?” I do think it’s a valuable conversation to have, or at least good knowledge base to have, even if you’ve never experienced it, and hopefully never will. Coming from my point, it was really good to understand there is a risk when I get outside. And I can put those in numerical context – I think you said there were 300,000 cases per year of Lyme disease, which seems like a lot. But when you figure there’s 360+ million people in the United States, it’s not a huge, huge number, but those that are affected, many of them are in really, really bad shape. So again, it’s really a good overall primer and education to understand there is a risk and what to look for, which I think is probably the more important thing.
Dr. Darin Ingels (5:48): Right. Lyme disease has really become epidemic, not just in the United States but really around the world. As you mentioned, we have about 300,000 new cases that are reported, and most of us who are in this world would argue that that’s grossly underreported. We don’t know what that true number is, but consider it’s probably half a million people or more. And remember, that’s every year. So as you start stratifying that over the course of a decade, we’re now talking millions and millions of people dealing with chronic Lyme disease. It’s become one of these things that, particularly for people who really enjoy being outdoors. We know that New England and the central part of the US are areas that tend to be endemic for Lyme disease, but really Lyme disease has been reported in every state in the country. So whether you live in Washington state or Arizona or Texas, in places that we don’t typically think of Lyme disease as being problematic, in reality it is possible. And I think people who spend a lot of time outdoors have to be very vigilant about protecting themselves against ticks because they are out there, and for some people can become very damaging in the long term.
Allan (7:01): Yeah. My wife is the worrier of the two. One of us has to do it, I guess. She’s constantly worried about tick bites and things like that when we’re outdoors. I have a property about seven acres out here and I’ll get out there in the bush of it and be cleaning it up, and she’s like, “Check your body for ticks, check your body for ticks.” And I do. I guess that’s one of the things that I came to learn from your book, is that the deer tick that we’re talking about is actually not the tick I’m used to dealing with in the Southeast as often. The ticks we’re dealing with are a little bit bigger than this deer tick. The deer tick would actually be much smaller, which is something I didn’t know. So let’s take a step back. Things I knew was Lyme disease was an auto-immune disease, I knew that it was passed by certain ticks, I knew about the potential of a bull’s eye type mark where you got bit, those types of things. But could you take a step back and tell us what is Lyme disease, how does it get spread and how do we contract it, as a start to get us going in this conversation?
Dr. Darin Ingels (8:11): Lyme disease is actually a bacterial infection and it’s transmitted primarily through a tick bite, and as you mentioned, it’s mostly through the bite of a deer tick. However, these ticks can transmit other types of bacteria and viruses, independent of Lyme disease. We know up in New England where I spend part of my time, 30 plus percent of the ticks up there carry Lyme disease plus something else. So there’s an additional risk of getting some other illness that’s not Lyme disease, that you can get through those tick bites. Down in the Southeast where the deer ticks aren’t as endemic, there are other types of ticks. There’s the dog tick or the wood tick, and as you migrate over towards Texas, there’s the lone star tick. All these ticks can transmit various types of infections, some of which are Lyme disease, others which are something else.
When people get exposed to these ticks and if they have transmitted that bacteria, you can basically feel flu-like, and a lot of people when they are experiencing symptoms – they get a headache and joint pain and body aches, they might spike a fever and chills. It’s kind of a nondescript illness, and often it gets passed off as you’ve got a virus or some other kind of bug running through you and hopefully it will pass. But that bull’s eye rash that you mentioned is the telltale sign that if you see it, there really is nothing else that we know of that causes that kind of rash. That’s very stereotypical for Lyme disease. Unfortunately, when you look at the research, we know that maybe 40% or less of people who get bit by a tick that carries Lyme disease actually gets that rash. So the lack of the rash certainly doesn’t tell us about whether you do or do not have Lyme disease.
One of the characteristic things we also see in Lyme disease that’s very unusual is what we call “migratory joint pain”. What this means is one day your right shoulder hurts, and the next day it’s your left knee, and the next day it’s your right ankle. When you start getting this pain syndrome that seems to vary from joint to joint and body part to body part – there’s nothing really else that looks like that, other than Lyme disease. So the deer tick is still the biggest transmitter of Lyme disease. There’s some information out of Europe that suggests that perhaps even mosquitoes and fleas may transmit Lyme disease, and that might make sense in that I see a lot of patients who live in areas that aren’t known for having Lyme disease that actually have Lyme disease. So perhaps there is another insect factor that’s spreading it. But again, as of now, when you look at the statistics, New England and the Central Midwest are really the big endemic parts of Lyme.
Allan (10:51): Yeah. And I guess that’s one of the hard parts of this – you may think that you’re just getting a spring or a fall flu, or you might be thinking, “My joints hurt because of the weather. It’s getting a little moist out, it’s probably going to rain tomorrow.” As we get a little older, there are the aches and pains, and we’ve gone through enough flus to say, “This is a flu. It goes away in a few days, and then I’ll be fine. If I’m not okay on Monday I’ll go to the doctor and he can give me a shot or an antibiotic or whatever he wants to do.” So, Lyme disease often gets missed. And I know that in the book you put a quiz that takes us through a series of questions that if we get to the end of that and we score better than, I think it was 45 on this particular quiz, it’s very likely that we do have Lyme disease. It can be confirmed with some tests.
I’ve gone over things in here with podcasts before; we’ve talk about acute and chronic. So I’ll just quickly go through. Acute is something that’s right there – something happened and you know what happened. Here’s the event, you can actually point to it. Chronic is when something sticks around for a while and you might not even know when the actual event, so to speak, occurred. It’s just continuing illness or a continuing problem. You’ve identified acute and chronic with regards to Lyme disease. Can you talk a little bit about what those differentials are of how it’s acute versus chronic and what the basis is? And then what are some of the symptoms that we would look for on the basis of whether we’re dealing with something that’s immediate, like acute, or something that’s a little bit more long-term, like chronic?
Dr. Darin Ingels (12:35): In acute Lyme disease, as I mentioned, you feel really ill and it’s like if you had any other type of infection. You can get a high fever, swollen glands, chills, body aches, joint pain. You can get a headache, you can get back pain. You just feel like you’ve got a bug that often will knock people down for a handful of days. I think the big difference, when you get a virus, a cold, things like that – you might be sick for a few days to a week, maybe 10 days, and then it seems to resolve on its own. Or maybe you’ve gone to your doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics, and that cleared it up and you feel fine.
What happens in Lyme disease often is that you might feel a little better or you don’t feel any better at all. And you start getting into two weeks, three weeks, a month or longer, and really not feeling well. And as it migrates out of that acute phase into a chronic phase, what we really start to see are more neurological symptoms. So people will complain of this condition called neuropathy, where you get numbness and tingling in your hands, your feet and other places on your skin. People will describe these sensory distortions where you feel a burning in the skin and yet you look at the skin and it looks completely normal and pink. People complain of feeling clumsy, they trip a lot, they drop things a lot. They start having memory problems, cognitive impairment, short-term memory loss.
All of these various neurological symptoms can be a sign that you’ve gone out of that acute infection stage and now it’s becoming more of this auto-immune problem. We’ve got some pretty good evidence in the literature that Lyme disease has the capacity to trigger your immune system in a way that it starts making antibodies against your own neurological tissues in your brain, and that inflammation in the brain can really start to cause a lot of these various neurological symptoms. It’s interesting when you look at all of the symptoms that have been associated with Lyme disease – there’s almost 100 symptoms. It’s really pretty varied. We call Lyme “the great imitator” or “the great mimic”, because it looks like so many different things. That’s why when I have people who come into my office who’ve basically been sick for weeks and months on end and they’ve been tested 20 ways to Sunday, and can’t seem to find an explanation of why they feel the way they feel – Lyme disease is always something that’s on my mind, because it is one of the few things out there that can cause this sort of long-term illness, particularly when we hear about a lot of joint and muscle problems, and the neurological symptoms.
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Allan (15:31): I think the thing that struck me with all of this as I was going through the reading – there’s a theory about mitochondria, that it was basically at one point a separate bacteria that moved into our system and became a part of humans and animals over time. It really seems like Lyme disease has a little bit of that nature to itself, that it’s somewhat trying to take over us as an organism. It’s actually very, very smart. I guess maybe not intelligent, so to speak, but the way it works and the things that it does make it very hard to, one, diagnose, and two, to actually get rid of.
Dr. Darin Ingels (16:16): Yeah. Lyme diseas is really the ultimate shapeshifter of its characteristics. For people who don’t know, Lyme disease is what’s called a “spirochaete”. If you look at it under a microscope, most bacteria are like little balls or rod-shaped organisms. Spirochaete is a very long corkscrew-shaped organism. And even though it’s technically a bacteria, it actually behaves more like a virus and therefore it can penetrate tissues, it can penetrate cells and it can literally ball itself up so that the immune system essentially can’t identify it. I think part of the reason that people end up with the chronic Lyme disease is that this organism will change its shape, hide from the immune system so the immune system doesn’t get rid of it the way it should. It kind of hides in the corners of the body where the immune system is either not looking or if it gets inside your cell, the immune system can’t see at all. Then given the right set of circumstances, it starts to rear its ugly head again and uncoils itself, and then it becomes more problematic and can continue to stimulate more inflammation. So like you said, it’s a very clever organism. Out of all the bacteria and viruses that I know of, I think it’s the one that has the greatest capacity to evade the immune system.
Allan (17:31): I think that’s really important to emphasize – we need our immune system to basically deal with this. Initially, I think you said within the first 72 hours, maybe some antibiotics would be able to knock it out, but once it’s gotten embedded, once it’s done its thing and it’s in your body and it’s replicated to a point where it’s got its fountainhead, it’s got its foothold in you – at that point you really need your immune system to fight this, because dealing with antibiotics for month after month, year after year really isn’t a practical solution. But your book does actually provide some practical solutions. And one of the things I really liked about the way you put this out there was, a lot of the things that you’re talking about in what you call the five stages of immune-boosting plan – those stages are probably things we should do getting ready for cold and flu season, getting ready for any other thing that we’re going to do it. We need our immune system to protect us. That’s what it is. It starts with the gut and everything else, but the reality is, these are practical tips you can use. Even if you don’t have Lyme disease, it’s just going to make you healthier overall. Do you mind going through the five stages of your immune-boosting plan?
Dr. Darin Ingels (18:58): Sure. The first step is really about gut health. What we know from science is that 80% of your immune system is, so if there’s anything in your gut that’s not functioning well, it’s harder for your immune system to function well. So many people I work with that have chronic Lyme disease have a history of chronic gastrointestinal problems. Whether it’s constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, there’s usually some element that something in that system hasn’t been working well. I can imagine for a lot of people, they already had an underlying gut problem, and then they got bit by the tick that carried Lyme, and that just went from bad to worse. So the stage was already set to start having immune problems. We really talk a lot about how to repair the gut, how to restore it. Certainly for anyone who’s been on antibiotics, perhaps for sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia – every time you take an antibiotic, you start eradicating a lot of your normal bacteria. There’s so much research coming out about how important your normal microbiome is, your normal bacteria, for maintaining so much of your good health, and it’s tied into weight, metabolism, mood, of course all the gastrointestinal issues – so really a critical part of having a healthy immune system. So I walk you through certain nutrients that can help repair the gut. I talk about specifically probiotics and their health benefits, having the right strains at the right amount is very important, particularly for people who’ve already been on antibiotics. We can talk about things like glutamine and digestive enzymes that can help your body break down the food and make sure you’re absorbing it the way you should. So, it really is about looking at what specifically for you may not be functioning as well as it could in the gut, and then helping repair that.
The second step of the plan is really about diet. I had Lyme disease, myself – that’s really why I wrote this book. I’ve tried various diets for myself and with my patients, and what I found is what we call an “alkaline diet” seems to work best. What I like about it is that it’s really geared on eating foods that help keep inflammation down in your body, because ultimately it’s the inflammation that people really feel and that’s what triggers a lot of the symptoms. In a nutshell, what an alkaline diet entails is eating a mostly vegetarian diet, where we try and limit animal protein and fruits to about 20% of your total dietary intake. And then we eliminate any junk food, processed food, dairy products and coffee. These are foods that tend to be very acid-forming in the body and therefore are more prone to stimulate inflammation. So if we can control it that way, it helps reduce inflammation in the gut and potentially in the joints and the brain and elsewhere on the body. Coffee is the one that people will always kind of sneer at me when I say that. I love coffee, but I found for myself that even a sip of coffee, my neuropathy would get a lot worse. So I know people say, “Well, it’s just a little bit, it’s okay.” But for some people that little bit can be a bit too much. So, when people are starting any kind of diet change, I really recommend following it 100%. That way you can really feel the full impact of what that diet is doing for your body.
Allan (22:15): I think that’s a really important thing. There’s a big push out there, “Let’s do 80 / 20. If you’re doing it right 80% of the time, you’re going to be fine.” And I would say you’re going to be fine about 80% of the time if you’re dealing with something. A lot of folks that are listening to the podcast are wanting to lose weight, and I’m like, “You’re not in that 80% of your time right now. You’re in that 20%.” So we’ve got to ratchet down on things a little bit until we can find the balance, and when we find that balance we’re there. And you’re talking about a similar situation. We’re dealing with a disease here that can really wreck us if we don’t take care of it, so this is not the time to be thinking about justifying or trying to get to a point where we’re saying, “But it’s okay because everybody else is doing it” kind of mindset. Not everybody else right now is dealing with Lyme disease. If you want to get past this, you want to fix yourself, then you have to make these tough choices. You’re not going to like it, but it might not be permanent and you’ll get back into that point where you can be the 80 / 20 and everything will be cool. But we’re talking about actually trying to fix a disease. So, taking that time right now to follow this anti-inflammatory type of eating is going to improve your overall health and put you in a better position to fight this bug.
Dr. Darin Ingels (23:41): Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. It really is about choices. And when you’re not feeling well, you have a choice to make the change or not, but when people do make those choices, they feel a lot better, faster. And again, as you get to a point where you’re feeling better, you could be more liberal with the diet, but when you’re really feeling horrible and tired and achy, it’s better just to toe the line and follow the program, and you’ll feel much better, faster.
Then the third step of the plan is really about treating the act of infection. I walk you through a series of herbal protocols that I’ve personally used and what I’ve used on thousands of Lyme patients. And again, it’s different than just taking antibiotics. Where the antibiotics are geared to just killing the bug, herbal protocols not only will help eradicate the bug, but will also work on everything else that Lyme does to your body. A lot of these herbs are anti-inflammatory, they help improve circulation, they help boost your immune systems, they’re nutritive to your gut. We’re really encompassing a much broader scope of what Lyme has done to your body than just the eradicating the organism. Plus we don’t get all the negative side effects that you typically get when you’re on antibiotics long-term. People don’t generally get diarrhea, they don’t get this infection called “Clostridium difficile”, which can happen. All those negative things that we tend to see with long-term antibiotics, we don’t see what the herbs. There are a lot of different herbal protocols out there; I highlight the ones that I’ve seen the best success with. People can get those herbs online, the dosing’s on there, exactly how much to take, what to take. My recommendation always is when you start on herbs – six to eight weeks on each protocol to really give it a fair shake. If you get to a point where you really aren’t feeling any different, then it’s time to move on to the next protocol. That’s all outlined in the third step.
Allan (25:34): I like how you prioritize them. You say, “This one’s the one that I’ve found to be the most effective for the most people.” And then you say, “If that one doesn’t work, you can start these other ones.” Some of them you say are relatively intense; the dosing and what you’re doing are a little bit tougher to handle. But you’re trying to start someone out at one that you’ve seen good results with, that you feel is the best for the most number of people. I like the fact that you’ve organized it in a way that gives them that kind of information, because so many times it’s like, “We’ll try this protocol. Well, that didn’t work. Okay, we’ll try this one.” And it sounds like you’re throwing things at it, whereas you actually take the time to describe all of them and explain why you’ve put one protocol in front of another.
Dr. Darin Ingels (26:20): It’s been my own personal experience and what I’ve seen with thousands of patients. This is the hierarchy in which I’ve seen the best results with the least side effects. But if that’s not working for you, here’s plan B. There are some people who just happen to do better on one protocol over another for no real logical reason. But you do have to give it a fair shake, you do have to give it enough time to do what we want it to do. But at some point you have to draw a line in the sand and if it’s not working – time to move on to the next one.
So the fourth step of the plan is really about environmental control. We all get exposed to so many different things in the environment that undermine our immune system. The average American gets exposed to over 80,000 chemicals a year, and all of that is potentially damaging to your immune system and perhaps other body systems. There’s a lot of this stuff that you can do at home – you can control what you use in your home, and this includes things like Windex, Tilex, 409, lawn care products, pesticides, herbicides. All of that stuff can have a cumulative effect on your body. And we know a lot of these chemicals get stored in our fat cells, so I do talk a little bit about ways to detoxify your body to help eliminate those, to reduce your body burden. But certainly anything that you can control at home, stop using these products, stop buying these products – that just lowers the burden on your body and potentially on your immune system.
One of the big things I highlight in that section is about mold. Depending on where you live in the country – where I am, in the Northeast, mold is a huge problem. Most people have a lot of exposure, whether it’s in their home, school or work environment. Mold toxicity is probably the one thing that mimics Lyme disease the most. When I’ve been working with patients for a while and we’ve been doing their Lyme treatment and we’re not seeing the kind of success we’d like, mold is always the next thing on my list that we need to examine. I recommend if you live in most of the country that gets humidity or moisture, it’s a good idea to have your home tested and make sure you don’t have any hidden mold. You don’t have to see mold to have a problem. Most people who have these issues don’t know that it’s there, which is why it’s a problem. Unless it peeks through your drywall and you see water stains, you would have no idea. But sometimes you can get just a little pinhole leak in your roof. It’s in your attic and mold is growing and you can’t see it. You don’t know, but it’s enough there that can affect your health. So that’s something worth investigating.
Allan (28:45): We have a horror story on that. We bought a house and it needed some repairs – we knew it when we bought it. But my wife said she just knew there was a mold problem. She could just feel it, something was wrong. So we brought in an expert, they came in and he was really proud to say he was a walking mold detector. If there was mold in the house, he would know. He went up into my attic and ducked around a little bit, and came out and said, “You’ve got a moisture problem but doesn’t seem to be any mold.” And then he asked about our duct work and said maybe it’s an allergy issue. He says, “When was the last time you had the ducts cleaned?” I’m like, “We just bought the house, so probably never.” He says, “Well, we’ll clean the ducts.” And so he comes in and cleans the ducts and we pay the bill, and three days later, one of our bathroom walls is just coated with mold because he had stirred up these mold spores that were actually in the ducts. So we had to bring out someone else, because when we tried calling them, they didn’t come back.
Dr. Darin Ingels (29:52): Of course.
Allan (29:54): So we called someone else, and he comes out and he’s like, “Oh my goodness, we’ve got to pull all this duct work out.” He said we can’t keep this duct work. So he gives me a price on that, and then he starts pulling the duct work out and he’s like, “We’ve got a bigger problem. I picked up the installation underneath the ducts, and there’s mold all underneath the ducts that I didn’t see before.” And I’m like, “Okay, great.” So, all the installation, everything cleaned out. Fortunately it had not gotten into the drywall and the roof, or in that bathroom. So they were able to eradicate it. It was a very expensive problem to have, but it’s one of those things where you have to do it right. It is something that could really negatively impact your health. I was less sensitive; fortunately my wife was sensitive enough to know something was drastically wrong. To me, if I get a little bit nasally, it’s not a big deal. I don’t have to think a lot about it. But for her it was a big deal, so we did bring someone in and fortunately we did, because it could have been a much worse problem if we let it go any longer.
So, mold is a big, big deal. If you have moisture or live in a moist area similar to the Northeast – not an area where you want to play around. If you have mold and if you do find that you have mold, it is something to really go ahead and get cleaned up, because it can cause you some massive mess. I know we’re here to talk about Lyme, so I had to go off on a mold rant, but it can really wreck you too. If that turns out to be the problem, then really get that done.
Dr. Darin Ingels (31:28): Lyme disease, when people get infected, often it can alter your immune system in a way that you become more hypersensitive to environmental things like mold. I never really had a mold problem until I got Lyme disease. So I feel like it sensitized me in some way to mold. Mold is really the only allergen that still bothers me today. I’m not as hypersensitive where I can smell it when I walk in every musty building, like other people do, but it’s something that does have the capacity to really undermine your immune system. If you live in a part of the country where there’s a lot of moisture, that should be on your list to at least rule it out as a contributing factor to your overall health, definitely.
So the fifth part of the plan is really about lifestyle. One of the things I see for a lot of people after they get Lyme disease is that they don’t sleep well. And sleep is such an important part of when your body has an opportunity to restore and repair itself. We’ve got a lot of evidence that the brain repairs itself when you’re in that deep restorative sleep. And the more you miss it, the less opportunity your body has to really recover. I see so many people after they get infected with Lyme disease, they just don’t sleep well, whether it’s difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and sometimes it’s a little bit of both. I outline various things you can do naturally to encourage getting better sleep, deeper sleep. The problem with a lot of the sleep medications is that they might put you to sleep, but they don’t necessarily get you into that deep restorative sleep. Whereas in the natural world there are a lot of nutrients and herbs that I think do a better job of accomplishing that. So, sleep is terribly important.
I think moving your body is incredibly important. When you’re achy and tired… I know when I was in the throes of Lyme disease, the last thing on my mind was going out and walking or hiking or doing anything physically active. It actually took me many years to get to a point where I feel like I could really do it again. But I talk a lot about different strategies that are very gentle, simple and inexpensive, that I think regardless of your physical state, there’s something there you can do to get your body moving. Because as you move your body, that’s when you move your oxygen, you get more nutrients to the tissue, you get rid of all that inflammatory material. It might be something as simple as stretching, it could be walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi. It’s just a function of what you enjoy, what you have access to, what you feel like you want to do. But I think it’s important that people get in the habit of doing something. As humans, we are designed to move, and again, for a lot of people it really makes a big difference. I hate yoga with the passion of a thousand suns, but when I do it, I feel so much better. It’s one of those things I go reluctantly, I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I really feel so much better. I can just feel my body moving and my muscles stretching and that stiff. tight feeling that so many of us with Lyme disease experience, really dissipates after a good yoga session. It is important to find something you enjoy doing, otherwise you’re just not going to do it, and that’s not the goal either. So find something you like and just be committed to doing it on a regular basis.
And the last part of all that is about stress management. Of course we kind of half-jokingly say, “Well, don’t have stress in your life”, but if you live in this country particularly, there’s always stress. And being chronically ill is stressful, and it’s stressful for your partner and your spouse and your family. But having an outlet to be able to express that, I think is very important. I always felt like I had a good support network, but at some point your friends and family kind of get tired of hearing about the way you feel, and you feel bad about burdening them. And people ask, “Oh hey, how are you doing today?” And you’re just nice and you say, “I’m doing great. Thank you for asking.” You don’t really want to tell them, “I feel terrible today and everything hurts, and my brain’s not working.” Having whether a Lyme support group or a therapist or whatever it is that works for you – I think having that place where you can really be honest and discharge the way you feel, is important. I have some patients who do it through art, some people who do it through music, some people who do it through a therapist. But having that safe space to be able to express how you feel and know that it’s okay that you’re going to have days where you feel pretty terrible, and that’s okay, and understand that it will pass and it’s fleeting. But in the throes of it, it feels pretty horrible. So, we talk so much about the physical aspects of everything Lyme disease does to your body, we kind of forget about the psycho-emotional aspects, which are significant. Your brain and your body are connected, and what one does, the other follows. So I think as much as we can encourage positive imagery and happy thoughts, so to speak, that’s a way that we can start helping encourage better healing in the body. It’s the one piece I see with so many Lyme patients that really seems to be missing. And I think it’s just an important part of overall health.
Allan (36:28): Yeah. And like I said, of the five, I think there was one that might not apply to everybody, but the other four – if we’re doing those ourselves for our health, we’re going to be much better off. And I completely agree. When you get to the lifestyle pieces of the exercise, the stress reduction management, and then of course the sleep – those are three core health components that we should be focused on trying to improve all the time.
I want to pick your brain while I have you here because l get this question from time to time. There are sleep supplements out there, and they’ll be like, “Should I be taking melatonin? Should I be taking GABA?” I do tell people I take magnesium before I go to bed, and part of the reason I take it is I do have low electrolytes for the most part. So I tend to take electrolytes as a supplement from time to time. What I found is if I take a magnesium supplement before I go to bed, I get more of that vivid dreaming and feel like I’m really getting into a deeper sleep. And I’m fairly comfortable because magnesium is electrolytes and mineral. But when we start talking about melatonin and GABA… I’m not going to say melatonin is a hormone per se, but it is something our body would make by itself. And GABA is something our body has in our brain, but there are questions about if you took it orally, how to get in through the brain-blood barrier.
So I guess the question I’ll ask with those, if you don’t mind going through is, are they really doing anything, and is it safe for us to take those on a regular basis? Because with other hormones, like if you took testosterone, your body is going to quit making testosterone because it got plenty. Same thing with estrogen, same thing with some of the others. If you’re putting it in there, your body’s not going to make any because it’s going to know that there’s enough there. And I’m not sure that melatonin wouldn’t be any different. Can you talk about those, because that is a topic I get asked from time to time and I just tell them flat out I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nutritionist. But since I’ve got a doctor on the phone, I just thought, let’s ask this question. What are your thoughts about melatonin and GABA?
Dr. Darin Ingels (38:44): Coming back to your example about hormones – yes, if you take a lot of thyroid hormone or for women who take estrogen – if you take enough of it, it will actually suppress your normal production. Our hormone systems are built kind of like a thermostat, where as your temperature gets to a certain point, it shuts the heater or the air conditioning off. The same thing happens in our hormone systems. We don’t know that that’s necessarily true in our neurotransmitter system though. So in the case of melatonin, melatonin is a hormone, and when we talk about supplementing with melatonin, we’re really talking about supplementing at normal physiological levels. So we’re talking about supplementing a level that would be your normal production, not super physiological doses that are far beyond what your body would normally make. Now, there’s some research, particularly in cancer care, that certain tumors, when you take high doses of melatonin, like 20 milligrams or more a night, can actually help stop tumor production. So I know in the cancer world, a lot of naturopathic oncologists are using high doses of melatonin for stopping tumor growth. But for people who just have a hard time falling asleep, which is what melatonin is designed to do – it’s really for the people that can’t fall asleep; it’s not really great for the people who can’t stay asleep. So we differentiate when there’s a sleep disturbance, whether the issue is falling asleep, staying asleep or both.
But I think melatonin for people who can’t fall asleep – when you look at the research, which is generally between one and three milligrams at night, and certainly for an adult three milligrams is perfectly fine and safe, even with long-term use. I’ve not read anything that suggests that it suppresses your natural melatonin, nor makes you dependent on it. And I have some people who go on melatonin for a period of time until they get their sleep pattern back on track, and then they’re fine and they don’t need to take it anymore. Melatonin, without looking at other reasons why people aren’t sleeping well, would be a little bit of a miss. Melatonin deficiency is probably not the problem. There’s probably something else going on that’s interfering with melatonin metabolism, so you’ve got to find out what that thing is.
Allan (40:48): It’s probably their iPhone.
Dr. Darin Ingels (40:52): In all seriousness, we know that definitely the blue screen that comes off iPhones and iPads does interfere with your sleep pattern. They’ve now demonstrated this in research. I always tell people that have trouble sleeping, especially two hours before you want to go to bed, you’ve got to cut off your iPhone and iPad.
Allan (41:11): I cannot get my wife to do that, to save my life.
Dr. Darin Ingels (41:16): We’ve all become a very addicted society to our electronics. And of course I think it’s practical too, because by the time you get done with your work day, you cook dinner, you clean up, you get your kids to bed – that’s the time you now have to yourself to answer email and do that. So for many of us, that’s our quiet time. Unfortunately, the timing is terrible because again, that blue screen… Now they make glasses that you can buy online that block that blue light. So for people who insist that they have to do that work late in the evening – go spend the $10 and get the blue blockers that block that blue light, and it’s going to certainly help with your sleep pattern. But melatonin, again, is really designed for people who can’t fall asleep.
For people who can’t stay asleep, this is where I think GABA actually works pretty well. But you’re right, there are some forms of GABA that don’t get absorbed very well across the gut wall. There are a couple of forms of GABA that have been studied that show they do actually cross the blood-brain barrier. I particularly use one called Pharma GABA, and there’s a few supplement companies that make that particular type. Pharma GABA clinically seems to work really well for people in keeping them staying asleep. There’s another one that’s a liposomal form of GABA that also seems to get absorbed fairly well. But if you’re just buying regular GABA off the counter that’s not in one of those forms, it probably won’t work very well.
The other nutrient that I like a lot of is called glycine. Glycine is the most basic amino acid and it binds to a specific part of the brain called the “locus coeruleus”, which nobody cares about, but it’s the actual part of the brain that’s sort of the on and off switch between excitatory neurotransmitters and the ones that make you calm and quiet. So by binding to that part of the brain, it basically flips the switch and helps the brain quiet down and starts inducing more of your sedative neurotransmitters like serotonin and so forth. So glycine is very safe, it’s very cheap. You can take 3,000 milligrams of glycine before bedtime and often people report that they feel like they get a deeper, more restorative sleep.
And you mentioned magnesium. Magnesium is the one nutrient you burn through the fastest in your body. And certainly if you’re a physically active person, you’ll burn through magnesium faster. Magnesium is a cofactor in a lot of neurotransmitter metabolism, so I think feeding those pathways probably helps induce better sleep. A lot of my patients do tell me they sleep better when they take more magnesium. If you get too much magnesium, you’ll know – it’ll actually give you loose stool. But I have some people who take 500, 600, 800 milligrams a day and actually do very well with it.
Allan (43:49): Okay. Well again, Doctor, it has been so cool talking to you. The name of the book is The Lyme Solution. If someone wanted to learn more about you, get a copy of the book or just learn more about Lyme disease, where would you like for me to send them?
Dr. Darin Ingels (40:52): Yeah, if they just go to my website – it’s DarinIngelsND.com – we’ve got a lot of great information about Lyme disease, the book, and we’d love for people to follow us and get that information.
Allan (44:20): Cool. This is going to be episode 322, so you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/322 and you’ll find a link to a Dr. Ingels’ website and the book, The Lyme Solution.
Dr. Ingels, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Darin Ingels (44:37): Great. Thanks, Allan.