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.
If you struggle with chronic exhaustion, insomnia, poor immunity, and persistent low blood sugar symptoms, you likely have poor function of the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys and secrete stress hormones. However, your conventional doctor may have told you there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue based on guidance from The Hormone Foundation. What they may not understand is that there is a continuum of adrenal function and that the brain plays a role in adrenal fatigue.
The debate about adrenal fatigue versus primary adrenal insufficiency
The term “adrenal fatigue” has become a household word in the chronic illness world, and for good reason. The adrenal glands are our frontline against stressors large and small. In our constantly chaotic and nutritionally-depleted lives, these hard-working little glands can become worn down, sometimes to the point of barely working, right along with the areas of the brain that govern them.
What’s confusing is a recent statement by The Hormone Foundation which claimed adrenal fatigue does not exist and is not supported by any scientific facts, and that primary adrenal insufficiency is the only real version of adrenal dysfunction.
However, according to integrative physician Richard Shames, MD, both adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency exist along the same continuum but are separated by the severity of symptoms and treatment methods. In a nutshell, adrenal fatigue can also be referred to as mild adrenal sufficiency.
Primary adrenal insufficiency is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, such as by an autoimmune condition like Addison’s disease that attacks and destroys adrenal tissue. Primary adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed through blood tests and can be treated with medications that replace adrenal hormones.
Symptoms of primary adrenal insufficiency include:
Loss of appetite with weight loss
Craving salty foods
Dizziness, low blood pressure
Feeling lightheaded when standing up
Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort
Adrenal fatigue describes when lab tests don’t support a diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency but a person still experiences adrenal-related symptoms such as:
Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stress
Craving salty foods
Functional medicine practitioners diagnose adrenal fatigue by considering symptoms as well as results from a 24-hour saliva cortisol test.
Current blood tests are good at diagnosing severe forms of adrenal insufficiency such as Addison’s disease but not mild adrenal insufficiency, or adrenal fatigue.
This debate between adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency is reminiscent of the former debates about “mild” hypothyroidism. Twenty years ago, many endocrinologists denied mild hypothyroidism as a true diagnosis because they believed that as long as a patient was within conventional TSH reference ranges they could not possibly be sick.
However, doctors trained in functional medicine recognize that a functional reference range — a narrower TSH range that reflects optimum thyroid health — means that a serious thyroid problem can exist within the conventional TSH range.
As testing and recognition of adrenal fatigue, which affects many people, continues to gain medical acceptance, we will start to refer to it as mild adrenal insufficiency.
The role of the brain in adrenal fatigue
It’s important to understand the brain plays an important role in adrenal fatigue. This explains why nutrients to support your adrenal glands may not go the full mile when the real problem is happening between your ears.
Adrenal fatigue has at its roots poor function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis refers to the feedback loop between your body and areas of your brain that govern adrenal function. Unrelenting stress beats up this entire system, not just the adrenal glands, and it is more complicated and involved that simply low cortisol. The problem is compounded by the brain’s predilection for efficiency, in this case becoming so efficient at stress until the tiniest thing triggers a big stress response. Or, you are so advanced you are too tired to respond to anything.
How the adrenals become fatigued
When our bodies experience stress, no matter how small or large, our adrenals pump out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help us fight or take flight. Our bodies are designed to return to baseline after a stressor so the nervous system can return to a “rest and digest” state necessary for daily function.
However, in our chronically stressed modern lifestyles, our bodies are constantly reacting to stressors, many we are not even aware of, such as dietary triggers, toxins, and even electromagnetic frequencies.
This constant state of high-stress hormones damages tissues in the body and brain and is linked to:
Insulin resistance and diabetes
High blood pressure
Increased belly fat
Removing all stressors in life is impossible, but there is much we can do to support adrenal function and buffer the damage of stress.
Entrepreneurs face countless problems with money, partners, employees, failure, and never-ending uncertainty. The physical, mental, and emotional consequences can take their toll.
According to researchers, people who own their own businesses tend to be passionate people in the best and worst ways and are more prone to:
Sense of worthlessness
Loss of motivation
Entrepreneurs’ burdens are doubled by the obligation they feel to keep their problems to themselves.
Overwork and poor self-care: a recipe for disabling exhaustion
Researchers also suggest that entrepreneurs struggle with hypomania — a milder version of mania seen in 5 to 10 percent of Americans. This makes them prone to overworking.
Business owners tend to dive into their projects and succumb to poor diet, lack of sleep, not enough social support, and minimal exercise.
These habits make them less resilient emotionally and physically and more prone to health consequences.
Self-care as the foundation for business success
Though running a business or launching a startup is full of stress, you can still support your resilience, health, and energy.
Find emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. See a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of significant anxiety, PTSD, or depression.
Make time for friends and family. Research shows social connections improve physical health, psychological well-being, and longevity.
Get regular, adequate sleep. According to the CDC, adults who average fewer than seven hours sleep per night are more likely to report chronic health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, asthma, SOPD, arthritis, depression, diabetes, and dementia.
Exercise regularly. Moderate daily exercise helps reduce stress, improve mood, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, manage weight, and support good gut bacteria for better brain function.
Exercise should leave you feeling energized and refreshed. If you exercise and feel exhausted, you over-did it.
Take a digital sabbath. Unplug for an hour every day or a full day on the weekend. It does wonders for your mental and emotional health, and it makes room for real-time social connections that further support your health.
Travel less. When we are on the road — or in an airplane — we face irregular schedules, poor diet, and sleep deprivation. When possible, avoid travel during times of stress.
Schedule time off. Create regularly scheduled time where you have absolutely no commitments, not even wrangling the kids at the playground. Make a day solely for you and only do what brings you joy and rejuvenation.
Support your gut health for good mental health. Our gut microbiome — the community of bacteria present in the digestive tract — is innately tied to many aspects of our health, from energy level to mood and brain function.
An anti-inflammatory diet will help support gut health and your stress resilience.
Eating plentiful and varied produce (with a minimum of fruit to avoid spiking blood sugar) is one of the best ways to support healthy gut bacteria. Aim for five to seven servings per day.
Support your adrenal glands. The health of our adrenal glands can make the difference between being energetic and being burned out.
Adrenal adaptogens, phosphatidylserine, and plenty of sleep are ways to support your adrenals.
Avoid junk food and excess sugar. These items put the adrenal glands into overdrive, draining them of their reserves.
When you support your health your energy increases, your mental focus improves, you become more efficient, and you are better able to handle the chaos that running a business requires.
If you need support in any of these areas, contact my office for more information.
Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients we can’t get enough of from food. Our bodies are designed to make vitamin D from sunlight, yet modern life has made that difficult. The result is a worldwide 50 percent deficiency in vitamin D, even in sunny locations.
Why we can’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin
While some foods contain vitamin D, our main source is supposed to be sun exposure and we synthesize it using cholesterol.
However, certain factors stand in the way:
Reduced sun exposure. We spend far fewer hours outside than our ancestors and slather on sunscreen when we are outside. People with dark skin or who live farther north have even less ability to make vitamin D from sunlight.
Limited diet. Most people don’t eat the foods that contain more vitamin D, such as organ meats, salmon and fish liver oil, and egg yolks. Two foods fortified with vitamin D — dairy (a common immune reactive food) and breakfast cereals (gluten and grains).
Gut inflammation and fat malabsorption. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. When the gut is inflamed due to leaky gut and other inflammatory gut disorders, fat absorption is compromised and your vitamin D levels suffer.
Stress. High cortisol levels from chronic stress can deplete vitamin D levels.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:
Muscle, joint and bone pain
Brittle or soft bones
Suppressed immune system
What vitamin D does for you
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and along with thyroid hormone, is one of the two hormones every cell in your body needs. It regulates hundreds of different pathways throughout the body.
Bone density. Vitamin D has long been known to play a role in preventing breakdown of bones and increasing the strength of the skeletal system.
Mood regulation. Low vitamin D is linked to a 14 percent increase depression and a 50 percent increase in suicide rates. Increasing vitamin D intake can help improve anxiety and depression.
Brain health. Vitamin D’s biologically active form has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques common to Alzheimer’s Disease. Associations have also been noted between low 25-hydroxyvitamin D and dementia.
Reduced cancer risk. Optimal vitamin D levels are associated with lower rates of cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, and pancreas.
Sleep quality. Adequate vitamin D is associated with improved sleep.
Immune regulation. Vitamin D plays a key role in promoting regulatory T cells, which decide whether to dampen or promote inflammation in the body.
This is particularly important in dampening autoimmunity, when the immune system attacks body tissue.
Studies show more than 90 percent of those with autoimmunity have a genetic defect that promotes vitamin D deficiency.
A common thread in all chronic illnesses, inflammation is shown to be reduced by adequate vitamin D levels.
Ways to boost vitamin D
Sunshine. Get 20 to 60 minutes of sun on your skin per day, depending on your skin tone and latitude. The more skin exposed, the more D you produce.
Food sources. Include salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and egg yolks in your diet.
Supplementation. Vitamin D exists in two forms, D2 and D3.
While vitamin D2 is commonly seen on mainstream vitamin labels, vitamin D3 is twice as effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body.
Current mainstream dosage guidelines for vitamin D are based solely on maintaining proper bone density and not preventing chronic health conditions.
Since vitamin D is fat soluble, its recommended to take it in an oil-based soft gel capsule or liquid form with a meal that includes fat.
For autoimmune management, doses of vitamin D can range from 5,000 to 10,000 IU per day. Some people take higher doses if their genetics hamper absorption. It’s best to test your levels every three to six months.
Emulsified vitamin D
Emulsified vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) enhances absorption and helps prevent toxicity at higher doses.
Support fat metabolism with digestive enzymes
If you have leaky gut, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or have had your gall bladder removed, your ability to absorb fat may be compromised. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, make sure your body can absorb it by adding digestive enzymes to your daily regimen.
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.