Gut Health

Listen To Your Gut: A Brief Guide To Digestive Health

Written By: Dr. Michelle McConnell

There are 327.2 million people in the US as of 2018. Would you believe that 74%  (or 242 million) have some kind of digestive difficulty. This can range from gas, bloating and pain to Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis and even cancer. More than half of these people admit that they have not discussed their symptoms with a doctor. The majority of those have some kind of IBS symptoms described as pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating. A person gets diagnosed with IBS when they have these symptoms and all other causes have been ruled out.  In the medical field, we call this a diagnosis of exclusion. The problem is that a diagnosis of IBS explains a persons symptoms, but the patient still does not know what is the root cause of these symptoms. 

Even more problematic are that these symptoms tend to be a sign of a larger issue but are  for the most part ignored. Patient’s are often left thinking that they have to live with these symptoms. Symptoms like acid reflux, cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and even fatigue are signs that something is wrong.  In most health issues if these symptoms don’t get addressed they will inevitably become something larger down the road.

If you have been to your doctor and they have no answers its time to get more help from those that specialize in gut health.  At Live Well Wellness Center, we see many patients that have been to their doctors to get help with these symptoms and are left with being told all your tests are normal.  While prescriptions can help they often mask the symptoms and don’t address the root cause of the problem.

There are many factors that can contribute to IBS like symptoms that the conventional medical system does not look for. Conditions we see in the office often are SiBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth), food intolerances, candida overgrowth, and a dysbiotic microbiome.  All of these conditions are testable and can be treated. If you experience gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or cramping then one (or many of) these conditions may be contributing to your symptoms. 

Maintaining a Happy Gut

Most days your gut should be without symptoms and you should feel comfortable after eating. Sure, sometimes we tend to over eat and feel full but this should be without discomfort. Stress, aging, and an unhealthy diet can all affect your gut health, sometimes to the point of disease.

Meals should be digested in a timely matter and feel like they are moving through your gut well and not sitting in your stomach like a stone.  There should be a healthy well-formed bowel movement every day if not two a day. There should be no urgency immediately after eating but also no straining to have a bowel movement. These are the habits that should exist in a healthy gut, all without pain or discomfort. Sure there can be some uncomfortable days but those should be few and far between.

What can you do to improve the gut function?

Sometimes simple things practiced at home can make a big difference. A great diet consisting of good fiber and nutrients are essential in any gut health. Your gut is your relation to the world around you. It is how we assimilate what we need to live. It is not completely about the healthy diet but really about absorption and assimilation of those nutrients. Problems with absorption and assimilation mean deficiencies in nutrients, vitamins, fats and proteins all needed to supply our body with what it needs to run properly.

With deficiencies we tend to see bone loss, immune issues, mental emotional issues, muscle loss, and even more frequently fatigue and premature aging.

Some tips that you should consider to optimize your gut health:

  1.     Take Digestive enzymes.  Digestive enzymes are great to add to a healthy diet in order to improve digestion and stomach acid. Sometimes when we have an unhealthy diet for long periods of time it alters the digestive enzymes we naturally make which can result in symptoms like heartburn, bloating, constipation and overall poor digestion. Adding in a source of healthy pancreatic enzymes with great digestive herbs can improve gut functions markedly.
  2.     Eat the right portion sizes. Portion control is important to maintain a healthy gut. While we all may binge on occasion, it is not good to over eat on a regular basis. Frequently overeating causes the stomach to stretch while altering hormones that help with hunger control and satiation.
  3.     Eat a Well-Balanced Diet. Eating a healthy diet is probably the most important factor to maintaining good gut health.  The lack of a healthy diet is the biggest reason why we start to see problems in digestion. Poor diet contributes to the lack of nutrients, low fiber, increased numbers of chemicals from processed foods and lack of healthy fats.  These together wreak havoc on or digestion and gut microbiome. We always say, a large part of our immune system resides in our gut. If your natural gut microbiome is altered, it can contribute to poor immune function and less absorption of vital nutrients that keep you healthy.  

Ready to Learn More about Gut Health?

Join me, Dr. Michelle McConnell, for the Follow Your Gut: Common Causes of GI Symptoms and How to Keep Your Gut Healthy on March 21, 2020 at 10am at our center!
2905 W Warner Rd, Suite 25, Chandler AZ 85224
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How Healthy is Your Terrain

How healthy is your terrain?

Written by: Dr. Michelle McConnell

As we say at Live Well, its not about the bug its about the terrain.  If you take for example some one that is contagious with the flu virus or any virus for that matter and put them in a room with a group of healthy people not all of those healthy people will come down with the flu. Why is that?

Staying healthy during cold and flu season is particularly harder this year with the novel coronavirus emerging. It has been determined that it is much more contagious compared to your common cold or the flu. But yet all of those people that a sick person encounters will not themselves get sick. Those that do not end up getting sick may just have healthier terrains or constitution. How do you strengthen your constitution?

Here are ways to increase your likelihood of staying healthy this season.

1.      Avoidance is key. Decrease public travel as much as possible. Obviously don’t travel to those areas that are most at risk and decrease travel when possible. If it is short distances consider a car trip rather than airplane travel. If you must travel touch as few things as possible such as taking an escalator. Try to balance yourself rather than holding a rail and if you do need to touch the rail use some hand sanitizer gel or wash your hands well.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/hand-washing/art-20046253 )

2.  Eat a healthy diet with plenty of dark green and array of colors. Many of the veggies that are purples, reds, yellows and greens have a whole lot of nutrients in them. As a matter of fact this is the largest source of nutrients in the foods we eat. Purple items have the most antioxidants. Try to eat organic in those veggie items that matter using this guide to know what fruits and vegetables are most important to purchase organic. The Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen (hyperlink: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ )

3.  Take your vitamins. Nutrients are important, some more than others when it comes to preventing the flu. Zinc is well known to block the receptor on cells that the flu enters. The best form is lozenges and nasal sprays. Vitamin C is important for immune function along with vitamin A (as beta-carotene).  In some cases, when you are around people who are sick, it is appropriate to take high doses of these. Consult with your doctor to learn what doses are optimal for you or consider getting an immune boosting IV.

4.  Natural herbs can help fight viruses.  Some herbs to consider are Echinacea and Elderberry. These are both very safe and have been shown to be effective at helping to clear viral infections and keep the immune system strong.  There are many other anti-viral herbs that can be more potent, but you should consult with a doctor prior to taking them.

5.  Masks as a physical barrier can be used if you are sick or if other people are sick.  The only mask that has been shown to be effective is the N-95 mask that actually has to be custom fit. Most surgical masks can actually increase your chances since many people end up touching their face more when they use a surgical mask.

We wish you health and wellness through this season!  If you find you need care for a viral infection please consider visiting us at Live Well Wellness Center. Our Naturopathic Medical Doctors will provide you with the tools you need to keep your immune system strong and decrease your chances of getting sick.

Sleepiness vs. Fatigue

Sleepiness vs. Fatigue: What’s the Difference?

Do you feel tired all of the time? Is getting out of bed in the morning difficult, or getting through the day a constant struggle? 

It turns out low energy is one of the most common symptoms that drive patients to see their doctors. And although we often use words like “sleepy” or “fatigued” interchangeably, they are actually very different.  While both results in low energy and feeling sluggish throughout the day, sleepiness and fatigue are a result of different underlying causes and are treated very differently by your doctor. 

Sleepiness

Sleepiness is best defined as the feeling of low energy you get due to poor sleep. Often, sleep issues, such as troubled sleep,  difficulty falling or staying asleep, and not getting enough sleep, causes sleepiness. When you’re sleepy, you’ll notice that the longer you are awake, the more your energy diminishes, but when you finally get a good night’s sleep, you feel refreshed and energized.  

Most people understand why sleep is so vital, even without knowing the specific physiology behind it. During sleep, our body produces several hormones that are necessary to control most of our bodily functions. These include healthy energy levels, metabolism, sugar regulation, appetite control, digestion, and more. But if you lack sleep, your body can’t produce the hormones necessary for proper function, resulting in feeling sleepy and eventually contributing to chronic fatigue and diseases.

Many factors can contribute to poor sleep, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and lifestyle factors. While sleepless nights may not be in your control, there are many things that you can do to optimize the quality of sleep that you get, such as: 

Set A Bedtime

Similar to how you probably wake up at the same time every morning, try to go to bed at the same time every night. Establishing a bedtime helps your body maintain its normal circadian rhythm (a.k.a. sleep and wake cycle), making it easier for you to fall asleep each night.

Get At Least 7 Hours

Each night, aim to sleep seven or more hours. Studies show that this is the ideal amount of sleep that adults should be getting each night. But laying down for seven hours is not necessarily the same as sleeping for seven hours. If you are still feeling sleepy during the day, then go to bed earlier so you can get enough sleep at night.

Go Offline

Ditch the electronics for at least one hour before bed. The blue light in electronics alters our circadian rhythms, making it hard for our bodies to know when it is time to go to sleep. Watching television, playing video games, scrolling through emails, and social media are also stimulating, making it harder to quiet your mind when it is time to fall asleep. Try to make it a habit to turn off your electronics early enough to let yourself relax and get the proper sleep you need.

Quiet Your Mind

Make it a point to spend 10 to 20 minutes each night before bed to do something relaxing right before bed. Whether this is enjoying a calming herbal tea while journaling, meditating, writing your gratitude journal for the day, or reading a book, it will allow yourself to make a bedtime routine that relaxes you before you try to sleep.

Get Comfortable

If you are uncomfortable, then most likely, your sleep will be interrupted at some point throughout the night. Create the ultimate sleeping environment by making sure your room is quiet, not too hot or cold, and without any lights that might wake you up.

Although poor sleep hygiene is one of the most common contributors to sleepiness, there are also many other causes. And if you have already tried the recommendations on this list and are still not noticing changes in how you feel, then it is time to call your doctor. Another common cause is hormonal imbalances. At Livewell, our physicians often find that when these imbalances are corrected, our patients tell us that they fall asleep faster, sleep better, and can finally stay asleep throughout the night. 

Fatigue

Fatigue is similar to sleepiness in that it involves an extreme lack of energy. However, the causes and experiences are very different. Often a result of mental, physical, or emotional stress, fatigued people will wake up feeling tired and notice that their energy does not seem to improve throughout the day and is not relieved with sleep. This lack of energy can often make a person feel lethargic and as if they have brain fog. 

At Livewell, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms patients complain about when they make their initial visits. When our experts start to look for the root of the problem, we find that the causes can range from hormonal imbalances to chronic stress to nutritional deficiencies to hidden infections. However, these are just a few of the common causes of fatigue that we see in our office. We have many patients who come in who have a combination of many of these factors contributing to their low energy.

Hormonal Imbalance

Our hormones are highly interconnected, and when one starts to become imbalanced, it will often trigger other hormonal imbalances later on. For example, our sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone naturally decline in both men and women as they age, contributing to a wide variety of symptoms, most often including fatigue. In these cases, hormone replacement therapy is one of the many treatments available.

Similarly, our thyroid, a small gland that sits at the bottom of the neck, is responsible for producing and secreting thyroid hormones. These include triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). But often, our bodies do not produce enough of these hormones, causing hypothyroidism, a condition that causes fatigue, low metabolism, hot or cold intolerances, brain fog, digestive issues, and mood swings. When your thyroid does not produce the right amount of hormones, you will start to feel like you have noticeably low energy, and your metabolism will decrease, resulting in weight gain. 

At Livewell, we have a lot of patients who have had undiagnosed thyroid imbalances for years. By adding in nutrients that support the thyroid gland and medications to help boost thyroid hormones, our patients often notice tremendous improvements in both their energy and metabolism. 

Chronic Stress

Stress, of any intensity or duration, can wreak havoc on our energy levels. Our adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys, are responsible for secreting cortisol, our stress hormone. However, cortisol is an essential hormone in our body, even when we are not under stressful situations.

When you first wake up, this hormone is secreted in high amounts to help you feel energized and again at night, in lower quantities to help you sleep.  But, the longer you are exposed to stress, the less effective our adrenal glands become at secreting cortisol. If your adrenals are not able to secrete cortisol efficiently, you will find that you will not have this energy surge in the morning, resulting in fatigue and low energy throughout the day.

Nutritional Imbalances

Nutritional imbalances are another common culprit that can cause fatigue. Iron and B12 are two of the most common nutrients that can become deficient, resulting in fatigue. When either of these becomes too low, it can result in anemia, a condition where your body is not able to produce enough red blood cells. A healthy diet is the best way to make sure you are getting the nutrients that you need to keep you healthy. However, some patients will require supplementation. Although the first sign of a nutritional imbalance will be symptoms such as fatigue, the best way to determine this through routine blood tests, including a complete blood count (CBC).

Hidden Infections

Another cause of fatigue, one which is frequently overlooked by general health practitioners, is reactivated viral infections. Once exposed to a virus, our immune system strengthens enough to keep the virus controlled. But the virus remains in our body forever. During periods of stress or illness, our immune system becomes weakened, sometimes allowing for these viruses to reactivate.

One of the common infections our experts see reactivated is Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which is responsible for causing mononucleosis (commonly referred to as mono) and fatigue. There are many treatments available to help fight EBV, which can be diagnosed by a simple blood test.

Whether you are sleepy or fatigued, there is no reason you should be living your life feeling tired and sluggish every day. At Livewell, we have many patients visit our office complaining of low energy, who can feel better and live their life vibrantly again with the proper treatment. 

If you suffer from low energy, fatigue, or just want to learn more, we invite you to join us on February 8th at 10 AM at Live Well Wellness Center for our free informational forum hosted by Dr. Jessica Turner. This forum will teach you more about what may be causing your symptoms and how you can reclaim control of how you feel. 

If you are unable to attend the event but would like to learn more about the information covered, please call our office to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with one of our doctors and discover how we can help you feel your best. 

Register for our Free Fatigue Workshop

10 Ways to Improve Your Health in the New Year

With the New Year fast approaching, it is the perfect time to start to think about our 2020 New Year’s resolutions. Many of us see the new year as the perfect time to start fresh and think about how we can improve our health, change our lifestyle, and, let’s be real, lose weight. In 2018, 45 percent of Americans admitted that health and weight loss goals were among their New Year’s resolutions, but a much smaller percent stuck to these goals. 

To help you stick with your 2020 resolutions, our team of experts collected ten habits that will help you reach your health and fitness goals. Check them out: 

  1. Drink Plenty Of Water

    Water is fundamental for every organ system and every biochemical reaction that takes place in the body.  It helps to flush out toxins, keeps our skin healthy and glowing, and provides lubrication for all of our joints. Despite the health benefits, nearly 50 percent of people do not drink enough water.

    But how do you know if you are drinking enough water to stay hydrated? We advise our patients to aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then your daily water goal should be 75 ounces. Our patients find that the easiest way to remember to drink water is to carry a reusable water bottle, like a Hydroflask, that they can refill throughout the day and help keep track of their daily ounces. That means, if you carry a 32-ounce bottle and have a 75 ounces per day water goal, then you should be filling it 2.5 times to stay optimally hydrated.

    Don’t forget to consider the quality of your water. If your water does not contain all of the electrolytes your body needs to stay hydrated, you will not receive all the health benefits water can provide. For example, springwater contains high amounts of electrolytes and is a high-quality drinking water choice. 

    Many people have reverse osmosis (RO) water systems in their homes, which are excellent at removing things like bacteria, but they also remove necessary electrolytes. It is crucial that if you drink RO water, you make sure the system adds back in electrolytes, or you are adding in Trace Mineral Drops to your drinking water.

  2. Eat at Home More 

    While exercise is a necessity for staying healthy, studies show that diet accounts for 75 percent of health and weight loss changes. The average American eats out 4 to 5 times a week. Though there are healthy options available at restaurants, eating out makes it a lot harder to keep track of your calories. Often, restaurant meals are much more calorie-dense due to the oils, butter, and sauces used to make the meals taste better. 

    To optimize your health gains, try to limit the number of times you eat out per week to special occasions. And when you eat out, take a look at the menu before going to the restaurant, so you can be better prepared and know what to expect.  

    Instead of opting for takeout, try to make it a ritual to start cooking dinners at home and prepping your lunches for the next day. Studies show that you are more likely to eat healthier when cooking for yourself and are also more likely to eat smaller portion sizes than if eating out. Invest in a fun, healthy cookbook to change things up and make cooking less of a chore. A few healthy cookbooks that our doctors love are Against the Grain and The Minimalist Baker.

  3. Count Colors, Not Calories

    Another great way to become healthier this year, while also helping to shed the pounds, is to count colors, not calories. The most colorful foods available in the grocery store reside in the produce aisle. Fruits and vegetables are not only colorful but are also nutrient-dense and contain fewer calories.  

    Pile your plate high with fruits and vegetables from all different colors of the rainbow to ensure you are getting a diverse supply of vitamins and nutrients. Often, each color is associated with high amounts of a particular vitamin or nutrient found in that food. For example, red foods like bell peppers, tomatoes, and cherries contain high amounts of antioxidants, such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C, whereas, purple and dark blue fruits and vegetables are high in quercetin which helps to decrease inflammation and boost immunity. By adding multiple colors to your plate, you ensure a nutrient-dense and nutrient varied meal.

    You can even try making it a contest between family members to see who can have the most colorful plate. This is a great way to make eating healthy fun for kids and the whole family.

  4. Everything in Moderation

    The easiest way to not be successful at your health goals in the New Year is to cut too much out at one time. Making a healthy diet and lifestyle changes are just that, a lifestyle change, and should be something that should you can manage long term. Removing everything that you enjoy in your diet too quickly can create cravings and negative feelings towards your health goals. And while crash diets can cause you to lose weight fast, they are not sustainable long term. Studies show that crash dieting has caused 40 percent of all people to gain more weight back than their initial weight loss. 

    Instead, follow an 80:20 rule, meaning that 80 percent of your diet throughout the week healthy. This rule allows you a couple of splurges during the week on things that might not be considered “healthy.” Compared to crash dieting, this rule helps you make a healthy lifestyle change that you can stick to, which will lead to more weight loss success and a healthier lifestyle long-term.

  5. Set Aside 30 Minutes a Day for Physical Activity

    Set aside 30 minutes every day to do physical activity. The intensity of the exercise will be different for everyone and can be anything from a half-hour walk to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). What is most important is consistency.  

    Often, we watch patients start with a very intense exercise program because they want to lose weight fast. But much like crash dieting, for most people, this isn’t feasible long-term. Instead, schedule 30-minutes every day on your calendar that you can commit to exercising. By making this a daily routine, working out becomes more enjoyable and as something special for you. And in time, you will find that the intensity of your exercise increases naturally.

    The key is to find something that you love and feels more like a hobby than exercise. This will make your fitness journey fun and exciting, while still allowing you to burn the extra calories. If running on the treadmill is not your thing, then look into fun dance or fitness classes that don’t feel like work. Everybody will be different in the type of exercise that they enjoy. You want to find the one that works best for you.

  6. Go Outside With Friends

    There are so many outdoor activities available this time of year in Arizona. We have beautiful hikes, lakes, and parks and we have incredible weather to go with it. Be intentional about spending a few hours outside each week, and invite your friends to hike or try something new, like paddleboarding, with you. (If you need help, here are some of the best winter hikes in AZ.) Enjoying where we live allows you to get in some healthy exercise, while also getting the added health benefits of nature.

    Sunlight has a wide array of health benefits and can help to improve energy, concentration, mood, and even stimulate healing. We also absorb a large amount of Vitamin D from the sun, which is vital for strong bones and a healthy immune system. Since studies show that 42 percent of us do not have enough Vitamin D, sunlight is crucial if you are not taking a supplement.

  7. Wear Sunscreen Everyday 

    Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. With our beautiful Arizona weather, there is no shortage of sunshine, making it critical that you take the necessary precautions and protect your skin by applying sunscreen daily. Invest in a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect you against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are widely recommended ingredients in the sunscreen world because they provide exceptional sun protection with few health concerns. 

    For those of us who are into anti-aging, sun protection is one of the most significant preventative approaches you can take to prevent wrinkles, sun spots, and premature skin aging. Some of our favorite sunscreens are Neova DNA Damage Control and EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum

  8. Go Offline

    In an age where it’s typical to be addicted to our phones and the internet, there has never been a better time to set technology boundaries for you and your family. Studies show that the average American spends over three hours staring at a screen EVERY DAY. Computer and phone screens are wreaking havoc on our eyes and body, contributing to symptoms like eye strain, poor vision, headaches, and neck and back pain. 

    Set a goal each day for the maximum amount of screen time and stick to it. Most of our phones have a feature available in the settings that will alert you when you have reached a set amount of screen time for the day. Initially, this boundary means learning to resist the urge to scroll through social media whenever you have downtime. 

    Even just setting a few hours every week to take an “internet vacation” can lead to incredible benefits and lifestyle improvements. For you, this might mean setting a specific time every Sunday to detach from your phones, televisions, email, computers, and whatever other devices. An easy way to keep from missing your technology is by making this quality time with your family, where you do something fun. 

  9. Keep a Gratitude Journal

    There is a lot of research showing the many health benefits of feeling gratitude. Gratitude, or the process of giving thanks, have a positive effect on relationships, mental and physical health, sleep, self-esteem, and mental cognition. The more grateful you are, the more likely you are to take care of yourself and engage in healthy lifestyle choices.

    Establish a routine where every day, you write down three things for which you are grateful. We recommend either first thing in the morning or at night before bed. If you are doing this activity in the morning, then it will start your day with positive thoughts and energy. If you are reflecting on your gratitude at night, then it will set yourself up for a better, more peaceful sleep.  

    Record your daily gratitude thoughts in one place. It can be a simple journal from any grocery store or a more complex journal, specially designed for recording gratitude. Either way, by recognizing all of the things that you are grateful for, you set yourself up for better health and mindfulness.

  10. Set a Bedtime for Yourself

    While most of us have a set time that we have to wake up and go to work each morning, the same rules do not typically apply for the time that we go to bed each night. Studies show that one in three adults are sleep deprived which can contribute to symptoms like fatigue, depression and anxiety, brain fog and memory loss in addition to making you more susceptible to chronic disease, a weak immune system, and injuries.

    Some of the sleep hygiene recommendations we give our patients, include: aim to get seven to nine hours of good quality sleep each night, make sure your bedtime is before midnight, and no screen time for up to an hour before bed. How much sleep you need refers to the number of high-quality sleep and varies depending on the person. 

    The time that we go to bed significantly affects our health because we produce a majority of our hormones at night. The human growth hormone is among these and primarily produced before midnight, during our first two hours of sleep

    Make a nightly routine an hour before your bedtime each night to unwind, destress, and get ready for bed. A lot of our patients turn this routine into a nightly ritual where they will enjoy a cup of “Sleepy Time” tea, journal, or reflect on their day. 

With a new decade approaching, now is the perfect time to start working toward a better and healthier you! We invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our naturopathic physicians and discuss how we can help get you on the path to succeed at your health goals. By looking holistically at your diet, lifestyle, health history, and symptoms, our patients often feel more healthy and vibrant than ever.