In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.
In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue-collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects. If you would like to meet with Dr. Celaya to discuss your issue, schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION.
1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.
Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).
In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.
2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.
3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.
4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.
5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.
6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.
Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION to find out how.
Emerging research reveals that higher-altitude living contributes to a higher risk for depression and suicide. While studies continue to look into the mechanisms behind this trend, it’s clear a variety of factors come into play. From the unique effects that altitude has on the brain to social and psychological aspects of life in the high country, many of these factors are influenced by your lifestyle and dietary choices.
In the United States, the highest suicide rates are in the intermountain area — in particular, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Wyoming comes in first with two times the national suicide average, and the other states on this list consistently score in the top ten nationwide.
Resort town life: A recipe for desperation and impulsiveness?
While some studies reveal physiological factors behind the altitude-linked descent into suicidal depression, the experts say social, economic and cultural factors can also play a role.
Mountain community is transient by nature. The mountain resort-town life revolves around two seasons: winter and summer. Ski season and summer tourist season are the main busy times separated by two off-seasons that locals like to call “mud season.”
During mud season, while everything is either buried in spring snowmelt or autumn rain, the tourists disappear, locals have little to no income, and one’s sense of displacement, isolation, depression, and uncertainty can increase dramatically. Having to make it through this tough time twice a year, every year can cause high levels of stress and depression. Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Consultationwith Dr. Celaya.
Social isolation. These remote communities are spread far apart, breaking up the interconnectedness that people have in more populated areas. In addition, many residents come and go during “mud season,” making it hard to develop strong social bonds. This undermines the creation of the well-established intergenerational relationships, deep social connections, and the resulting support systems known for supporting mental health and stability.
Financial struggle and uncertainty. When we think of resort towns, we think of enjoyment and freedom surrounded by natural beauty. However, the reality for many residents is a life of working two to four jobs during tourist season, the twice-yearly mud-season of unemployment, unaffordable housing that changes frequently, and constant financial worries. This puts enormous stress on individuals, families, and relationships.
Party culture and substance abuse. Resort towns are notorious party towns, and the use of alcohol and other drugs is more prevalent. According to Mental Health America, substance abuse is likely a factor in half of all suicides, and the lifetime rate of suicide among those with alcohol problems is three to four times the national average.
Altitude’s effect on the brain may increase suicide risk
A recent Harvard study analyzed previous studies linking life at higher altitudes to increased risk of depression and suicide.
While more than 80 percent of US suicides occur in low-altitude areas, that’s because most of the population lives near sea level. Adjusted for population distribution, suicide rates are almost four times higher at high altitude versus low altitude.
A possible physiological explanation for this trend has been considered: Chronic hypobaric hypoxia, or low blood oxygen, might alter serotonin and dopamine metabolism in the brain as well as negatively influence how energy is transferred in cells and tissues.
Lowered serotonin production. Studies also show high altitude reduces serotonin levels, which is associated with mood and anxiety disorders. And the higher you go, the greater your risk for suicide.
In fact, Salt Lake City residents have a 30 to 40 percent higher risk of suicide just based on their altitude compared to those at sea level. Nearby Alta and Snowbird — both ski resort towns — have a suicide rate two times that of the national average.
Raised dopamine production. On the other hand, altitude increases the production of dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter associated with pleasure-seeking and risk-taking.
This is complicated by the fact high altitude living attracts outdoorsy risk-takers who may already have increased dopamine levels that make them prone to the impulsivity associated with suicide.
Support your mental health with dietary and lifestyle measures
While we need more research into the altitude-suicide connection, it’s clear that high-mountain living presents many challenges to mental health. If you live in a high-altitude location, be aware of the factors below to see if your risk for depression and suicide may be higher.
Symptoms of impaired serotonin activity:
Loss of pleasure in hobbies and interests
Feelings of inner rage and anger
Feelings of depression
Difficulty finding joy from life pleasures
Depression when it is cloudy or when there is lack of sunlight
Loss of enthusiasm for favorite activities
Not enjoying favorite foods
Not enjoying friendships and relationships
Unable to fall into deep restful sleep
Symptoms of high dopamine activity:
Heightened cognitive acuity
Lack of self-control
Anti-inflammatory diet to support brain health. Ongoing research reveals a strong link between brain inflammation and various depressive disorders. Support your body’s ability to quell inflammation with a diet free of common allergens and reactive foods.
Symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation. Imbalances in blood sugar can be at the root of many mood issues.
Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include:
Increased energy after meals
Craving for sweets between meals
Irritability if meals are missed
Dependency on coffee and sugar for energy
Becoming lightheaded if meals are missed
Eating to relieve fatigue
Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
Feeling agitated and nervous
Poor memory, forgetfulness
Signs and symptoms of high blood sugar include:
Fatigue and drowsiness after meals
Intense cravings for sweets after meals
Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
Craving for sweets not relieved by eating them
Increased appetite and thirst
Difficulty losing weight
Trouble falling asleep
Support your stress response with adrenal adaptogens and phosphatidylserine.
Holy basil leaf extract
Pantethine (B5) and B vitamins
Phosphatidylserine liposomal cream that delivers 2000mg per day
Moderate your caffeine intake. Caffeine can stress your adrenals, making it harder to cope with high stress.
Support serotonin levels with 5HTP (a serotonin precursor) or L-tryptophan.
Support brain bioenergetics with creatine.
Use moderate exercise to manage stress levels and support brain health.
Stress management practices such as meditation, chi gong, and yoga help to moderate stress and relieve depression.
Actively build community and social connections by joining a volunteer group, drama club, book club, or other organization.
Know the signs of increased social isolation in yourself and loved ones.
If you have substance abuse issues, please contact my office for a referral for assistance.
Check for deficiencies in vitamin D, B2, and iron, all of which can affect mood.
High altitude life has many joys and benefits, and it doesn’t have to be a recipe for depression disaster. To learn more about how you can support your well-being while living at altitude, please contact my office.
A high-salt diet has long been connected with cardiovascular disease. Too much sodium in the bloodstream causes fluid retention, which makes the heart work harder to move the extra volume of blood. This can stiffen blood vessels and lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.
However, a recent study shows a high-salt diet also raises blood pressure by damaging healthy gut bacteria. This destruction increases the inflammation that contributes to high blood pressure and the development of autoimmune disease — when the immune system attacks tissue in the body. Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis.
Mice. The study shows that mice fed a high-salt diet killed off beneficial Lactobacillus murinus bacteria in the gut. It also raised blood pressure and activated pro-inflammatory immune cells.
The mice also showed signs of encephalomyelitis, an autoimmune condition similar to multiple sclerosis in humans.
When the mice were given supplementary Lactobacillus, their blood pressure and inflammation came down.
Humans. The humans in the study experienced similar results. Consuming a high-salt diet for two weeks killed off their Lactobacillus bacteria and increased inflammation.
However, if they took probiotics for a week before starting a high-salt diet, their Lactobacillus levels and blood pressure remained normal.
Can gut microbes protect against a high-salt diet?
While the study showed probiotics can protect against a high-salt diet, the researchers cautioned that taking probiotics cannot protect you from the damages of a high-salt, fast-food diet.
Manage your salt intake with good daily habits
While the average American consumes a whopping 3400 milligrams of sodium a day, the USDA recommends no more than 2300mg of sodium a day — about a teaspoon of table salt.
However, some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than others, so it’s recommended that individuals with hypertension, African Americans, and middle-aged and older adults should limit intake to 1500 mg of sodium a day.
Adopt these habits to lower your salt intake:
Read food labels.
Choose foods low in sodium.
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Consume foods that are rich in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables and fruits from vines.
Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents and adults is 4700 mg/day.
Flavor food with pepper, herbs, and spices instead of salt.
Choose unsalted snacks with savory flavors.
Build good gut bacteria to protect your health
The digestive tract is home to roughly four pounds of bacteria — your gut microbiome. Some strains are helpful, some are harmful. Both have roles to play, but it’s important to support your “good” bacteria for healthy immune function, brain function, and mood, and to avoid leaky gut, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions.
It’s easy to support a healthy gut with these simple habits:
Eat plentiful and varied produce; this is the best way to support a healthy gut environment.
Supplement with probiotics; they work best in a gut environment that’s already being supported with plenty of fiber from fruits and veggies.
Avoid excess sugar.
Get regular exercise.
Drink plenty of filtered water.
What if I have low blood pressure?
Adequate blood pressure is necessary to push blood carrying oxygen and nutrients into your tissues. Chronically low blood pressure can result in reduced brain function and neurodegeneration.
Low blood pressure is also often a sign of chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.
If you have low blood pressure you need to get it up as close as you can to 120/80.
Salt can help raise blood pressure. While a high-salt diet is not recommended for most of the population, people with chronically low blood pressure may need to consume more than the recommended daily amount of salt. It’s a matter of experimentation to see what level of salt intake is appropriate for you without raising symptoms of inflammation.
Glycyrrhiza. Extracted from licorice root, this natural compound increases the hormone aldosterone, helping to retain sodium and raise low blood pressure. You can use a liposomal cream version or an oral licorice root extract.
When you work with salt and glycyrrhiza to raise your blood pressure, you will need to purchase a good home-use blood pressure cuff. Measure your blood pressure throughout the day and experiment with dosages. A return to normal blood pressure typically results in a dramatic increase in overall energy and brain function.
For help with low blood pressure or dietary management of salt intake, contact my office.
You’re supposed to ditch regular soda for diet soda because it’s better for you, right? Wrong — research shows people who drink diet soda daily are three times more likely to develop dementia or have a stroke compared to those who drink it less frequently.
A 2017 study that tracked almost 3,000 people ages 45 and over for 10 years found those who consumed diet soda daily were almost three times more likely to suffer from ischemic stroke (from blood vessel blockage) or develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet sodas are basically a fizzy soup of toxic chemicals, including saccharin, acesulfame-K, aspartame, and artificial colorings.
And while the study did not find the same stroke and dementia risk with sugary sodas, plenty of evidence shows sugar sodas come with their own significant health risks, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, COPD, and other inflammation-related disorders.
This means you shouldn’t switch from diet soda to sugar soda. Instead, drink neither.
Additionally, if you drink diet soda because you’re watching your weight, you may be surprised to learn diet sodas have been shown to make people fat and prediabetic.
This is because diet sodas skew the composition of gut bacteria in a way that promotes obesity and diabetes. Mouse studies show mice given artificial sweeteners regularly developed high blood sugar compared to control mice and even compared to mice given a diet of high fat and sugar water.
A small follow-up study on human volunteers showed similar results — people who consumed artificial sweeteners developed higher blood sugar and obesity-promoting gut bacteria in just one week.
Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to be toxic to the brain. For instance, the majority of complaints to the FDA about aspartame have been neurological in nature. People report such symptoms as headaches, mood alterations, hallucinations, seizures, nausea, insomnia, anxiety attacks, vertigo, fatigue, rashes, irritability, heart palpitations, slurred speech, loss of hearing, loss of taste, and gut problems.
Aspartame is a known excitotoxin, meaning it causes brain cells to dysfunction, degenerate, and die.
Aspartame also creates toxic byproducts that are linked to lymphomas and leukemias. In one study, rats given the equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day had high rates of these cancers.
If you can’t drink diet soda or sugary soda because you care about your health, what can you drink?
Thankfully, sparkling water has become increasingly popular and available. If you’re not willing to give up a cold fizzy drink, simply opt for sparkling water both at the store and when eating out.
Ditch soda and shore up your healthy gut bacteria
It appears the effect of diet soda on gut bacteria may be an important factor that makes it a health risk.
One of the most importants things you can do for your health is to improve the composition of your gut bacteria.
One of the best ways to do this is to make vegetables the primary part of your diet, including cultured vegetables. Not only are they high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but they also feed the good bacteria in your gut and help them grow and thrive.
Additionally, avoid processed foods, sugars, and artificial sweeteners, all of which promote bad bacteria and promote health problems.
Ask my office for more advice on satisfying beverages and foods that are actually good for you.
Thanks to science and public awareness, we know environmental pollution from industry harms our health. Same goes with tobacco. But did you know “social pollution” is just as harmful? Social pollution refers to the long hours, lack of economic security, high cost of health care, exhaustion, surviving in a gig economy, lack of parental support, and high stress that has come to characterize work life in the United States and other industrialized countries. It is now recognized as they fifth leading cause of death.
In the new book Dying for a Paycheck, author and Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer uncovers the disastrous toll of modern work life on human health.
Sixty-one percent of American workers say workplace stress has made them sick, and 7 percent have been hospitalized by it.
Workplace stress leads to the chronic diseases that make up three quarters of the health problems crushing our health care system, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) cardiovascular disease, and circulatory diseases. Disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and overeating are also linked to high stress and the erosion of family and social structures from work-related stress.
In fact, one of the worst aspects of modern work life is the effect it is having on our social support structures. Long, stressful hours at work breaks up marriages, children, and families, leaves too little time for healthy socializing with friends and family, and makes it difficult for single people to date or establish new relationships.
Research clearly shows regular healthy socialization is vital to good health and that isolation and lack of positive social time can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When work place stress and social pollution keeps you stuck in fight-or-flight mode
One of the many downsides to workplace stress and social pollution is that it can keep your nervous systems stuck in fight-or-flight mode. A normal stress response is to flee, fight, or freeze. When work stress and the havoc it causes on your home life is constant, you never get a chance to unwind from being in a constant fight-or-flight state.
The chronic stress from this is devastating to brain and body health. It accelerates brain aging, causes leaky gut, raises inflammation, imbalances the hormones, and increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and addictive habits.
What can you do to protect yourself from social pollution and workplace stress
Unfortunately, most of us cannot single-handedly change this unhealthy situation in which we find ourselves. However, you can be aware of and not psychologically buy into the subtle or not-so-subtle shaming and unhealthy expectations around productivity.
Companies expect longer hours at lower pay yet provide little to no job security, sick days, maternity or paternity leaves, and so on. Be aware of this and don’t internalize the messaging that working long days with no days off makes you a better person. It doesn’t, it makes you a sicker person.
If you can downsize your housing, car payments, or other expenses, consider the positive impact living more modestly can have on your health. It could be the ticket to a dramatic health turn around.
However, not everyone can afford to downsize as many are working non-stop to barely get by. Although there is no easy answer to this, recognize your situation and don’t ask too much from yourself.
The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have at changing public perception and workplace policies.
In the meantime, support your health the best you can with an anti-inflammatory diet, seek out support, and make sure to include healthy, restful, and relaxing time in your life as much as possible.
If you have a desk job and are too tired to make it to the gym, take regular breaks to move your body and go for short walks as frequently as possible. Regular physical activity is vital to the heath of your brain and body and will help protect you from the harm of workplace stress.
Ask my office for more ways we can help you buffer your body from the negative effects of too much stress.
Have you ever wanted to know everything there is to know about your thyroid? This 7-part video series will cover thyroid lab testing, nutrition and infections that affect the thyroid, toxins, thyroid hormone conversion, lifestyle, and adrenal interplay.