How To Improve Your Brain/Body Balance And Improve Your Health While You’re At It!
It is important to remember that the majority of the roads leading into the brain are a two-way street. Not only does the brain get information from different systems and organs, but it also dictates the function of these organs in response to the environment they are in to help maintain homeostasis, or where the body likes to stay nice and balanced. In that sense, it is easy to see how not only a person wants to support these processes that can be contributing to brain health, but also to stimulate specific regions of the brain to help with this top-down control.
There is some expensive imaging that a person can do, and this can be important to find tumors, MS lesions, and strokes, but MRIs and CT scans don’t typically show the function of the brain. A tool that can really help is a functional neurology exam to determine what regions of the brain are being affected. The exam can help determine how to properly stimulate regions of the brain that are either working too much or not working enough, through a process called neuroplasticity.
Not only does a person need to find balance in the regions of their brain, but also address the underlying reasons why the brain isn’t working to begin with. It is important to look at different pieces of the metabolic puzzle to see what the big picture looks like and how all the pieces fit together.
So let’s talk about the roads to and from the brain.
The thyroid is a pretty hot topic these days and for good reason. It is pretty common to either be suffering from a thyroid issue or know someone that is. Thyroid medications have stayed in the top 10 most prescribed medications in the US for a while now and this trend is increasing.
The thyroid is a punching bag. Think of each organ like a bucket that is under a leak. Well the thyroid is a pretty small bucket, so a person will probably notice issues there first. The holes that cause leaking in this bucket can be stuff like:
- Toxins (mold, metals, chemicals to name a few)
- Infections (bacterial, viral, yeasts)
- Poor nutrient status (iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, minerals, low amino acids)
- Inflammation and autoimmunity
- Hormone imbalances (birth control, pregnancy)
- Stress (which can come from multiple sources)
As we can see, the list is pretty long, and it is almost easier to say what doesn’t affect the thyroid. This becomes really important because thyroid hormones are necessary for brain function and development. It takes a lot more than just looking at TSH and T4, especially since T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone and is what is a called a ‘co-factor’ for a neuron to fire. Meaning no T3 = no brain signals. Thyroid hormones have been shown to help with:
- Serotonin and dopamine
- Energy usage and expenditure (outside and inside the brain)
- Oxidative stress and neurodegeneration
- Properly developing and growing the brain
Blood Sugar/Brain Axis
This axis is multi-faceted in the sense that there’s so much to potentially consider, all of which can be contributing to high levels of blood sugar and insulin. Insulin resistance is actually a protective mechanism usually due to too much oxidative stress inside a cell, so it doesn’t make sense to ‘burn’ more fuel and make more oxidative stress.
Right out the gate it is important to discuss the effects of tasting sweetness. Zero calorie sweeteners are all the rage, but even if they are healthy it can still affect how the brain will try to regulate blood sugar. Once the tongue senses sweet, it sends information to the brain about what kind and how much food is being eating. The brain responds in kind to start talking to organs like the liver, thyroid, gut lining, and pancreas to start the stabilizing process. The problem is there aren’t any calories involved so all these organs are responding to sugars that aren’t present and once hormones like insulin are secreted and the liver gets ready. Blood sugar balance has to be restored since without calories being present, now blood sugar is dropping. Think of blood sugar like a pendulum, but the less it swings the better because the brain likes it to be stable.
An area of the brain that deals with emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety have been shown to increase the risk of diabetes regardless of body fat levels.
It is important to remember that high levels of insulin and blood sugar will not only damage the brain but degrade the protective barrier around the brain called the blood-brain barrier. This can be a huge problem because this barrier is meant to only allow certain molecules to be directly available to the brain and when this barrier is broken, it can contribute to brain dysfunction happening even faster. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are often called “type 3 diabetes.”
Insulin is responsible for making things grow and divide faster. It is often associated with increase body fat percentage. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t just a storage form of energy, but is actually metabolically active and can release pro-inflammatory signals that will cause the brain to become even more inflamed and work even less. Fatigue, depression, anxiety, poor memory, and brain fog are just a few examples of what a person might be more likely to experience.
There is another hormone called leptin that can be involved as well. This is kind of the gas gauge and tells you when you need to go to a gas station and fill up your car. If this gauge is broken, a person can’t sense if their tank is empty or full. They might not get hungry and “forget to eat” or they can also not register they ate, so they keep eating and eating. This can contribute to depression and dementia as well.
Another nail in the brain coffin related to being overweight and brain health is that it can directly contribute to the severity of an autoimmune disease. For the wrong person, this can be extremely important since the brain has a lot of potential targets for the immune system to start attacking. Couple this with a leaky blood brain barrier and this can allow certain cells of the immune system to have access to the brain and potentially start destroying different components that they normally wouldn’t have access too.
Of all the processes that can damage the brain, stress can be one of the worse. It doesn’t have to be standing in front of people giving a speech, stress can come in many forms that include:
- Psychological/emotional (jobs, relationships, current events)
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Lack of sleep
Stress can affect different regions of the brain that are responsible for processes such as:
- memory formation
- the sleep/wake cycle
- regulating emotions
- making decisions
- regulating the stress response (ironic)
- brainstem and autonomics (heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, digestion, etc.)
As if that isn’t bad enough, stress can activate the immune cells in the brain. They normally like to help the brain grow connections along the right paths as well as get rid of too much clutter in the brain when necessary. Under stressful conditions, immune cells have a tendency to become too inflamed causing more inflammation in the brain and contributing to disease processes like Alzheimer’s and depression. Lots of research is demonstrating that depression is a problem with chronic stress and/or inflammation… not so much an issue with actual serotonin or dopamine utilization. The neurotransmitter imbalance is because another process has gone awry and isn’t the primary reason a person may see a change in mood.
Acute stress is much different than chronic stress. If the brain knows there is only a short time a person will be in this state, then it knows there will be an end to this, and life can return to normal. In the case of chronic stress, if the brain doesn’t perceive an end then it knows it will be running from a tiger for the long-haul and this can be much more detrimental to the brain.
It is also well documented that if a person has autoimmunity then stress will also make it worse. Stress can activate certain immune cells involved in autoimmunity as well as thin the blood brain barrier.
Regardless of the form of stress, this can pull the brain and body out of a state of healing, growth, and repair as metabolic processes get prioritized. Digestion, hormone imbalances, sleep quality/duration, detoxification, making memories, building muscle, and so on all go out the window. The brain tells the body and adrenals to increase blood sugar, blood pressure, increase heart rate, change blood flow to vital centers, and to take short shallow breaths.
It has also been shown that a pregnant woman either experiencing stress or a young child having an adverse event (trauma like a car wreck, abuse, or seeing something bad happen to someone else) then their brain can become permanently wired different to be able to deal with what has been determined to be an unsafe environment. This can really hinder proper development of different regions of the brain and cause inflammation in the brain.
A simple way to think of it is stress is inflammation and inflammation is stress.
Think of the skin like a solar panel for the brain. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that begins production from sunlight hitting the skin. A few other steps are involved like the liver and kidneys, but the brain relies heavily on this process to function. Vitamin D helps the brain to:
- cells mature and grow
- protect the cells that are made
- make neurotransmitters
- stabilize neurons firing when they should
- reduce damage from oxidative stress
- increase function and maintain a healthy metabolism
- keep the area around neurons clean
- help with cognition
It can also be taken a step further. Sunlight also signals to the brain what time of day it is when it hits the back of the eye and skin to help sync up clock genes which in turn helps control the circadian rhythm. Remember how lack of sleep was a form of stress? It has been shown that people who have poor sleep have as much trouble balancing blood sugars the next day as a diabetic. Those clock genes are extremely important and also help with regulation of attention, modulating the stress response, hormone function, and cancer development. This is why getting the wrong type of light at the wrong time confuses these clock genes and a person’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm doesn’t only have to do with sleep and staying awake, but everything in the body has a circadian rhythm like hormones, the immune system, the digestive tract, the cardiovascular system, and the adrenals and thyroid, to name a few.
It has also recently been shown that moderate UV exposure helps with memory formation since a certain chemical that is released in the memory part of the brain (hippocampus) is also secreted on the skin during sunlight exposure. Pretty cool!
There are several things that can go wrong with vitamin D receptor sites like genetics, infections like EBV, CMV, and Lyme Disease, WiFi, and mold toxins
Movement is something that can’t be replicated with a drug or supplement. It is literally life for the brain and necessary for development. This can actually be one of the easiest windows to see how the brain is or isn’t working. When working with someone that has the proper training and experience, how someone does or doesn’t control movements can give a huge clue as to what parts of the brain are being affected. Different forms of motion can be broken down into a few categories like:
- tremors (resting, termination, intention)
- tics, chorea, choreiform movements
- slow or trouble starting movements
- how a person or child walks
- how eyes move and work
- fine motor control and coordination
- gross motor skills
- spastic muscles as seen in a stroke
- flaccid paralysis as seen in damage outside the central nervous system
- doing two things at once
- endurance and strength that is the same on both sides
Some of the earliest ways to look for an increased risk of Autism developing is actually looking at how a child moves since by the time a person looks at speech, behavior, and social interaction, the process has been occurring for a while at that point.
Also, looking at how a person moves, or their eyes move can be early signs of something bad brewing like cerebellum degenerating, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s. The way eyes move is truly a window into how different parts of the brain are working together to do what we might consider something simple like look at a target, follow a target, and coordinate touching what we are looking at (especially if both the person and the target is moving).
As you can see there is a lot to consider. Some of the benefits of making sure a person is active and exercises can help with not only feeling good but developing and maintaining parts of the brain that have a tendency to break down later in life as well as keep the mind sharp by helping increase learning and memory. Also, when a group of muscles move there is not only an increase in blood flow to the muscles being used, but also to the parts of the brain that coordinate the muscles themselves.
Different types of exercise are good and usually a person needs to be breathing hard, coordinating large muscles groups, working towards and reaching a goal, and continually improving. On the flip side of the coin, sometimes people need to improve their meditation and relaxation. It isn’t always about pushing to the limits every single day. Typically a depressed person does better with exercise and an anxious person does better with meditation.
One of the most well-known lines of communication between the brain and a system is the digestive tract. The concept of a leaky gut has been demonstrated over and over in the research.
It is the epitome of a two-way street. One of the most known routes is the vagus nerve. This nerve goes to organs like the gut to sample what is going on in the bowels. It then relays this information up to the brain so the brain can help determine what is the best course of action to keep this massive system working well.
It isn’t just the food a person eats, or having bad bacteria, worms, parasites, or yeasts, but also the good bacterial byproducts that help heal the gut lining, balance the immune system, help with mood, as well as properly develop the brain and keep it working well as a person ages. Diseases like Parkinson’s have been shown to start in the gut and the toxins work their way up the vagal nerve and start degrading certain parts of the brain. When the immune system gets stimulated in the GI tract, the stress response gets activated in the brain to deal with this form of stress.
The vagus nerve controls aspects of gut health like bowel motility, digestive enzyme production and secretion, how aggressively the immune system responds, as well as blood flow to the gut to help acquire the nutrients just broken down to feed the brain. It can be a catch-22 in the sense if the brain isn’t working well, then the GI tract isn’t working well, which makes it harder and harder for the brain to do its job and the cycle continues.
It has been shown that something like a traumatic brain injury can cause the GI tract to start leaking within a few hours if a person hits their head hard enough. Consequently, vagal nerve stimulation has been shown to help mitigate the damage to the GI tract after a head injury.
When we think of inflammation, toxins, and stress, the GI tract can be a very large source of all of these since most people learn to deal with the symptoms and accept them as normal.
The effects of hormones can sometimes be very apparent. Think of a child going through puberty or “that time of the month.”
Hormones play a huge role in how neurotransmitters are used, which can affect mood. Unfortunately for a lot of women, they have a hormone imbalance and the easy band-aid sometimes it to just give more hormones in the form of birth control. Oral birth control not only affects the bacteria in the gut and the thyroid functioning properly, but it actually changes different regions of the brain and how they connect to help with mood regulation.
Now not all hormones are bad. It is important to remember that hormones issues are usually secondary to something else going on, but when a person needs them, they need them. They are so critical to brain health that progesterone is one of the most neuroprotective substances coursing through a person’s veins. A low amount of progesterone is actually the most common cause of PMS symptoms since progesterone is depleted to deal with stress and inflammation, or a cell can’t make it due to oxidative stress.
Some considerations for proper hormone levels can also be the body’s ability to metabolize them correctly and this can sometimes largely due to a genetic component. The alphabet soup can be different CYP genes, MTHFR, COMT, SULT, and so on. It is easy to think of hormones like an orchestra – everyone has to be playing together for the song to come out right.
Sex hormones is really important for an aging brain – menopause and andropause are easy to think of examples since these hormones influence the front of the brain and neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. It has even been shown that the earlier in life a woman gets a hysterectomy, the higher the risk of her developing dementia later in life.
Although necessary for proper brain health, it is important to address the underlying issues causing hormone imbalances to begin with. After all, just because a person is given a hormone doesn’t mean the body will keep it in that form and not try to make it into what is necessary in that state to survive.
There can be several different types of toxins that can contribute to the brain not working properly. In research articles if they want to give a rat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Autism, depression, anxiety, or something like MS, they will make them genetically susceptible and inject bacterial toxins called LPS into their bloodstream and sit back and watch the brain function improperly.
Bacterial byproducts are one of the more well-known sources of toxins, but other sources can be mold toxins, EMF radiation, and chemicals like herbicides, fragrances, diesel fumes, aluminum adjuvants, plastics, and so on. Usually a person can partially determine what is affecting them if they smell something, walk into a moldy building, sleep with the WiFi router on, or eat something they know they aren’t supposed to.
Mold toxins have a tendency to use spears to stab through the blood brain barrier, inhibit the formation of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, as well as cause neural inflammation and pour gas on the fire of neurological autoimmunity.
EMFs like WiFi have been shown to breach the blood brain barrier as well alter how nerves fire in genetically susceptible people.
Aluminum adjuvants get pulled into the brain by immune cells like a Trojan horse and are called bio-persistent meaning they stick around. They have been shown to contribute to neurological inflammation as well as neural autoimmunity.
As hopefully demonstrated above, there is a lot to consider when a person is wanting to optimize not only their health in general, but their brain health as well. This is where combining functional medicine (the metabolic aspect of care) and functional neurology (proper brain stimulation to increase function) can really make a difference in how a person feels and change the trajectory of their brain health.
Author: Dr. Jared Seigler
For the last four years, he has served the Living Proof Institute as Clinical Director. After training hundreds of clinicians in functional medicine and functional neurology, a large part of his focus is to bring awareness to the healing potential of the human body metabolically through functional medicine and promoting neuroplasticity through functional neurology to help with the rising occurrences of chronic disease and providing solutions for complex health problems.
What are common health conditions that Dr. Seigler addresses using Functional Medicine?
Dr. Seigler has success in addressing neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune conditions, digestive complaints, as well as the adrenal, thyroid, and hormonal imbalances that are common in chronic diseases. By combining Functional Medicine and Functional Neurology, a personalized, long-term strategy can be developed to help maximize the healing process.
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About the Author: Dr. Jared Seigler
Dr. Jared Seigler is a Doctor of Chiropractic and has been a Certified Functional Medicine Provider for the past seven years. After watching the health of his loved ones erode without any real answers being provided, he became passionate about utilizing the body’s own healing potential.
By focusing on the root cause of why a person doesn’t feel good, now they are able to put their body in a state of healing, growth, and repair. Dr. Seigler helps a person figure out ‘why’ they don’t feel good instead of figuring out ‘what’ they have. He is also trained in hundreds of hours of Functional Neurology to help promote growth, development, and healing of various regions in the central nervous system.
Our Mission at The Living Proof Institute is to address the root cause of your health issues and restore your health and vitality. Through partnering and education, you will receive the tools and direction to live an extraordinary life.
Hi, my name is Amy.
I started working with Dr. Seigler after the birth of my 5th child. I was feeling extremely tired, not sleeping well and having extreme PMS that consisted of brain fog, difficulty concentrating and staying focused.
Shortly after receiving my test results back he implemented a nutritional and supplemental protocol for things my body was lacking or had an abundance of. Almost immediately I started sleeping better and had more energy.
After several months of following his protocol my energy was through the roof, my brain fog, lack of concentration and lack of staying focused had all disappeared. Everything that I wanted to accomplish while working with Dr. S was completed.
He exceeded those expectations and it’s so wonderful to have some sort of normalcy back with 5 kids. He gave me the tools that I needed during a tough time.
Thanks, Dr. Seigler.