While popular brain training gadgets and apps have their place, don’t overlook an age-old strategy to optimize brain health: Walking.
Humans are unique from the rest of the animal kingdom because of our ability to walk upright on two legs, a development that profoundly evolved our brains compared to our finned and four-legged friends.
Learning to walk freed our hands to do all manner of things and allowed us to conserve energy while moving over long distances, giving us more endurance than any other animal on the planet. The ability to walk also stimulated the development of the human brain into the most evolved in the animal kingdom.
Because walking played such an important role in the development of the human brain, it improves brain health in ways other physical activities don’t. Research shows that walking grows an area of the brain called the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. This makes it an excellent way to lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Also, the impact of the feet on the ground while walking has been shown to send more blood to the brain, improving oxygenation of the brain.
Maybe this helps explain why so many great thinkers and authors over the centuries were fans of long walks.
The many ways walking benefits the brain
Although walking confers myriad benefits, if you really want to super charge your brain, walk in nature.
A recent study found that walks in nature significantly decrease the obsessive, negative thoughts associated with depression and anxiety.
Researchers found that study subjects who walked through nature for an hour and a half showed less rumination and reduced activity in the subgenual prefontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with depression and mood and mental disorders.
The study subjects who took their walks in urban environments did not show the same results.
Another study showed getting kids with ADHD into a natural green environment significantly reduced symptoms. If you’re stumped for a creative solution to a problem, walking has been shown to increase your creativity by 60 percent compared to sitting. Many people report arriving at their “aha” moment while walking it out.
Walking better connects the various regions of the brain and improves memory and learning abilities.
In fact, one of the more interesting reasons walking is so good for creative problem solving is that its steady rhythmic pace facilitates and enhances our thinking abilities.
If you’ve ever had a functional neurology exam, then you know we ask you to walk as part of the exam. Sometimes we also ask you to walk while reciting every other letter of the alphabet or counting backwards by 7s.
This is because looking at how you walk, especially if you are multitasking, gives us insight into how different parts of your brain are working (or aren’t). Your walking gait, your arm swing, your leg stance, and your posture all give valuable information about what’s going on in your brain.
Any exercise is good, and certainly better than no exercise; but even if you work out regularly, don’t miss out on the brain benefits of walking. And if you don’t exercise, walking is perhaps the most inviting way to significantly improve your brain health.
Ask my office how functional neurology can help your brain better function.
You can contact our office at 317-848-6000 or email@example.com.
The brain is surrounded by a thin lining called the blood brain barrier, which prevents harmful compounds from entering the brain while allowing helpful nutrients in and cellular debris out. However, for a lot of people the blood brain barrier degrades, allowing harmful toxins and compounds into the brain. This causes inflammation in the brain and symptoms such as depression, brain fog, memory loss, and other brain-based symptoms and disorders.
The strategies for repairing a leaky blood brain barrier are similar to the strategies for repairing a leaky gut because the causes are similar. Some of the more foundations include balancing your blood sugar, removing inflammatory foods and chemicals from your diet and environment, and focusing on a whole foods diet that is abundant in produce.
However, beyond that certain nutritional compounds have been shown to help repair a leaky blood brain barrier:
Resveratrol. Resveratrol is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant (protects against damaging free radicals) known to help prevent development of neurodegenerative diseases. Resveratrol can increase your brain's growth hormone, support mitochondria, and protect and restore the blood-brain barrier.
Curcumin. Often used in conjunction with resveratrol, curcumin is the anti-inflammatory component of the spice turmeric. Heavily researched, curcumin can:
Sulforaphane. A phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, this antioxidant has anti-inflammatory qualities similar to curcumin. Studies show it can prevent breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce its permeability, and improve brain functionafter traumatic brain injuries and stroke. If you take sulforaphane in supplement form, make sure it contains the co-factor myrosinase.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a powerful tool in managing inflammation and autoimmunity. Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors. Studies show it can help prevent leaky brain by reducing inflammation and reducing blood-brain barrier disruption.
Ways our modern lifestyle contributes to a lack of vitamin D:
B vitamins. Several B vitamins support the health of the blood-brain barrier:
Magnesium protects the brain by:
EFAs are critical for:
Primarily found in fish, Omega 3s are EFAS that support your mitochondria, increase brain growth hormone, and support the blood-brain barrier. When consuming EFAs, it's important to consume the proper ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Omega 6 is a necessary EFA but taken in the wrong ratio to Omega 3 it is highly inflammatory. The average American consumes a shocking ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 of 25:1, contributing to the epidemic of inflammation-related health disorders. Researchers recommend a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 that ranges from 1:1 to 4:1. A recommended dose is 3,500 mg for a person eating a diet of 2,000 calories per day.
As you now know, it's important to take great care of your precious blood-brain barrier. Many of the above suggestions also benefit other health issues, so by adopting them you are hitting more than one target at a time. For more information on how to fix your leaky brain, please contact my office.
You can contact our office at 317-848-6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you following the right diet and taking all the right supplements yet still struggling with irresolvable gut problems? The problem could be in your head, or more exactly, in the large nerve that runs between your brain and your digestive system.
Called the vagus nerve, this large nerve sends communication back and forth between the brain and the organs, including the digestive organs. If your gut problems are accompanied by poor memory, brain fog, problems with cognition, or other brain symptoms, then you know you might have a sluggish vagus nerve.
Indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, burping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, and irritable bowel disorders are some of the common problems that result from an insufficiently active vagus nerve. A problematic vagus nerve is also evidence that your brain is degenerating, or aging, too quickly.
The brain delivers commands to the gut via the vagus nerve. This function executes digestion, gut repair and regeneration, moves food through the intestines (motility), secretes digestive enzymes and juices, triggers digestive hormones, and more.
When brain function deteriorates or the brain degenerates, the vagus nerve does not receive sufficient communication from the brain to deliver to the gut. This poor communication between the gut and the brain causes constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other gut problems.
This is one reason gut problems are common among people with brain injuries, the elderly, or people struggling with poor brain function.
Exercise the vagus nerve to improve gut function
A functional neurologist conducts a thorough exam of your brain health and function and then customizes a rehabilitation program unique to your brain. This rehabilitation may include activating your vagus nerve to improve your gut function.
The good news is you can also activate your vagus nerve on your own at home with some simple exercises.
How to exercise and improve your vagus nerve
First, how do you know if you need vagus nerve activation?
So, it looks like you have a sluggish vagus nerve, now what? Here are some exercises to activate the vagus nerve, taken from Dr. Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?. You can also contact my office regarding some other methods of activation. It is a growing field with many innovations.
Robustly gargle several times a day.Gargle each sip of a glass of water several times a day hard enough to make your eyes tear up.
Sing loudly. Sing as loudly as you can several times a day if you are in a place where you can do this, like the car.
Gag. Use a tongue depressor to gently press on the back of your tongue and make yourself gag several times a day until your eyes tear. This is one of the stronger approaches; just be careful not to poke the back of your throat.
Coffee enemas. Google coffee enemas and hold the enema solution as long as you can.
This is a very simple summary of how to activate the vagus nerve. For more advice unique to your brain’s needs, please contact my office.
Effects of complaining versus gratitude on brain health
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the brain compared to other organs in the body is how readily it changes and evolves based on how we treat it. For instance, research shows that even how we think and see the world — whether we complain frequently or express gratitude regularly — can be the difference between accelerated brain degeneration or enhanced brain function.
Understandably, when you’re stuck in a depressed state it can seem impossible not to complain when you everything about life seems miserable. Functional neurology can help steer you to a healthier metabolic environment for your brain and rehabilitate areas of brain under activity or over activity so that you’re better able to practice healthy brain habits.
The effect of chronic complaining on the brain
Researchers have divided complainers into several categories: chronic complainers, attention seekers, and complainers who are oblivious to those around them.
Chronic complaining results from a brain mechanism called negative plasticity.
Plasticity is a term used in neurology to explain how we learn new things via communication between neurons. When you learn something new, such as a language, new pathways of communication begin developing in the brain.
The more you practice, the more efficient those pathways of communication become so that the new skill eventually becomes automatic. This conserves energy in the brain.
Unfortunately, plasticity can be negative too, making you more efficient at something that is harmful to your health. Examples include bad habits, addictions, stress, PTSD, and chronic complaining.
In other words, the more you complain, the more efficient your brain becomes at so that it becomes automatic.
As a result, you start to see life through a bleak lens and this will affect your behaviors and belief systems for the worse.
What’s worse, chronic complaining can raise your risk of dementia by releasing excess cortisol, a stress hormone, that more rapidly degenerates areas of the brain related to learning and memory.
Being positive takes more effort
Why does complaining and negativity come so easily? In what serves as a survival trait, our brains and bodies respond more actively and readily to negativity than positivity. This phenomenon is called negativity bias.
In studying negativity bias in couples, researchers found that partners in successful marriages naturally employed a five-to-one ratio of positivity to negativity in their interactions with one another.
In other words, it takes a lot more effort in a positive direction to prevent a slide into negative plasticity and the health fallouts from chronic complaining.
Some complaining is healthy and normal
This isn’t to say you should never complain or express negative emotions. Repression also raises stress levels and sabotages health.
Researchers have found the key is to stay mindful about your negative situations. Accepting the negative situation and feelings and consciously choosing to respond within a positive framework takes more work but will net more benefits.
Practice gratitude to positively rewire your brain
The research on the positive benefits of gratitude on the brain and body are extremely encouraging. But like all good things in life, they take work on your part.
One of the most reliable paths to positivity is gratitude. You can develop a more positive outlook by thinking of or writing down things in your life for which you are grateful.
A grateful attitude has been linked to less anxiety and depression, sounder sleep, kinder behavior, and overall better health. One study showed participants who wrote down five things for which they were grateful only once a week were happier, more optimistic, reported fewer physical problems, and exercised more compared to the control group. Similar results were reported in polio survivors who kept a gratitude journal.
Using functional neurology to help you get unstuck
When in the throes of depression, practicing positivity or gratitude can seem like a tall order. Sometimes, metabolic or neurological forces conspire against your desire to feel and function better, and this is where functional neurology can help.
You may have an inflammatory disorder or gut bacterial imbalance that is sabotaging your brain health. Likewise, food or chemical sensitivities, an undiagnosed or unmanaged autoimmune condition, hormonal deficiency, or chronic infection could be weighing you down. An area of your brain may be under firing or over firing, creating neurological disharmony that promotes depression and negativity. You may be struggling with PTSD, a brain injury, or some other brain disorder that is hindering your chances at a good mood.
Depression, constant complaining, and chronic negativity are red flags that something deeper needs to be addressed. Managing your brain health through functional neurology strategies can help provide a sound platform from which to employ positivity and gratitude practices that will unwind the negative plasticity and build positive plasticity for a healthier and happier you. Ask my office for more advice.
You can contact our office at 317-848-6000 or email@example.com.
Vertigo can seem to come out of nowhere and feel life-threatening, making it scary to drive or walk down the stairs. The bad news is there are many causes of dizziness and it can take some sleuthing to figure out which one is affecting you. The good news is functional neurology can help you identify what kind of vertigo you have and help you quickly rehabilitate it.
For instance, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common causes of dizzy spells and is easy to treat. By defining each word in this complex sounding condition, we can see it is not as grave as it sounds:
BPPV occurs when small crystals in the inner ear become dislodged and travel to areas in the ear canals where they don’t belong. In most cases the Epley maneuver or another similar maneuver can move the crystal back to where it belongs.
Sometimes vertigo can be caused when the individual eye muscles do not work together because one or more of them is weak. This weakness causes the eyes to move abnormally. This abnormal movement sends incorrect visual information to the brain and vestibular system, an area of the inner ear vital for balance. This can cause dizziness and light-headedness.
Although a person usually doesn’t notice this eye muscle weakness, in functional neurology we can spot it during a neurological exam and provide exercises that target areas needing rehabilitation.
The vestibular system plays an important role in balance and the prevention of vertigo. However, it is a fragile system and vestibular dysfunction is more common than people realize. For instance, if you’ve had a mild concussion, whiplash from a car accident, falls or hits from sports, or other impacts to the head or body, you may have damaged your vestibular system.
Inflammation or infection can also affect the vestibular system and provoke vertigo.
The cerebellum, an area at the base of the brain, works with the vestibular system in balance and the prevention of vertigo. If the cerebellum is damaged from a brain injury, stroke, or an autoimmune disease (a disorder in which the immune systemattacks and destroys tissue), this can cause dizziness.
Other symptoms of compromised cerebellum function may include poor balance, being unsteady on your feet, poor coordination, and anxiety (because the unsteadiness is a perceived as a constant stressor).
Other brain-related causes of dizziness can include an imbalance between the hemispheres of the brain or neck issues that hinder proper communication between the body and brain — always take whiplash seriously, it could impact your brain health.
If you are having dizzy spells, it’s important to identify the source of your vertigo because it will determine the best course of treatment. You need to know whether your vertigo stems from the vestibular system or the brain because each is rehabilitated differently.
Make note of other symptoms (below) you have in addition to vertigo; they can help your functional neurology doctor customize the right treatment for the cause of your dizziness.
Symptoms and signs often associated with vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance include:
Is your brain not working, severely impacting your quality of life, but it’s not bad enough to warrant medical treatment? It is very distressing when you become increasingly moody, you keep losing your keys or forgetting where you parked the car, or you’re tired and always in pain. However, chances are if you see a doctor or neurologist for these issues, testing will show you’re fine. You may even be told it’s normal to feel that way.
In functional neurology we take these kinds of symptoms seriously. Everything about your life reflects your brain health. Compromised brain health can be as basic — and serious — as having lost motivation, not being able to accomplish what you want, the feeling life is flat, not wanting to go out and socialize, dealing with memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and so on. These are all issues that affect our experience on the deepest levels while we are alive, yet aren’t going to show up on an MRI.
In functional neurology, we help take the mystery out of your suffering. Through an in-depth neurological exam and, if necessary, functional medicine lab testing, we can identify areas of the brain associated with your symptoms that aren’t working properly. Having a concrete reason for what is robbing you of your quality of life helps people feel more invested in and empowered by rehabilitation.
This differs from a conventional medical approach in which, for example, you might be given a drug such as an antidepressant. That drug will bathe the entire brain with compounds in the hope it will improve function in the affected area of the brain causing problems.
However, in functional neurology, we can identify which area of the brain has compromised function and either activate or dampen that specific area as needed.
For instance, decreased activity in the left frontal lobe (forehead area) can present as depression. Instead of bathing the entire brain an anti-depressant or even a neurotransmitter supplement, we can give the patient rehabilitation exercises to target that area of the brain specifically.
Not only will this relieve symptoms, but it will improve the overall health of the brain and likely relieve other symptoms as well. Because all areas of the brain are so highly connected with one another, when function is low in one area, the whole brain can suffer.
While conventional neurology and medicine isdesigned to spot diseases and pathology, it often can’t diagnose a problem unless it has advanced significantly. For instance, for multiple sclerosis to show up on an MRI, about 90 percent of the nerve sheathes have to be destroyed by autoimmune attacks, even though patients may suffer from increasingly worsening symptoms for years prior. In functional neurology, we can screen for autoimmune attacks against brain tissue with just one test.
Sometimes conventional testing simply isn’t appropriate for common brain disorders. A study looking at brain scans for migraines, for example, showed only 1 to 3 percent showed abnormalities, and most of those abnormalities were not even related to migraines. That’s because the areas of the brain that could prevent a migraine often look normal in a scan even when they’re not doing their job; they’re either dormant or not firing correctly. The same can be said for scans of patients with ADD or ADHD.
Functional neurology helps by taking unhealthy neurons and making them healthier, as well as helping various areas of the brain better synchronize with one another for a more harmonious “neurological orchestra.”
Functional neurology is also different in that we take into consideration metabolic factors. For instance, undiagnosed hypothyroidism, autoimmunity, gluten intolerance, or gut bacteria imbalances all profoundly impact brain health.
If you know your brain isn’t working but your problem isn’t severe enough to be diagnosed or treated by conventional medicine or neurology, ask my office about how functional neurology can help you. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office to make an appointment at 317-848-6000.
Although brain injury symptoms may subside enough for you to return to daily life, trauma to the brain can continue to subtly wreak havoc on how your body functions and feels for month and even years later. For instance, many people notice their hormone function isn't the same after a brain injury.
Your hormonal command center - the hypothalamus and pituitary gland - is in the brain. Although a head injury may occur in an isolated area, the vast networks of communication across the entire brain mean that damage to one area affects the entire brain. And because the brain runs the body, it only makes sense daily operations of the body take a hit too.
Estimates on how many people suffer from hormone disorders caused by brain injury vary, however, one study of 1,000 patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) found almost 30 percent had compromised pituitary function.
The hormonal systems most impacted are the sex hormones, growth hormones (which adults need for bone and muscle strength), and adrenal, or stress, hormones. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can surface immediately or months or even years later.
Common hormone symptoms related to brain injury include fatigue, weight gain, low blood pressure, low libido, loss of muscle mass, and amenorrhea. Children may have growth problems later.
More severe repercussions can include Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency), diabetes insipidus (which causes intense thirst and heavy urination), or hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium).
How functional neurology and functional medicine can help restore hormone function
Why will two people with the same TBI have two wildly different responses hormonally? In functional neurology and functional medicine, we know one reason is the health of the brain prior to injury. For instance, one person eats a healthy diet, avoids inflammatory foods, isn't already struggling with depression or anxiety, does not have advanced brain inflammation, and exercises regularly. This person may experience a good and swift recovery after a TBI.
However, take the the person who lives on a pizza and mac-and-cheese, unaware that a gluten and dairy sensitivity are causing immune attacks on the brain. They also drink soda every day, sit gaming or working for hours instead of getting any exercise, and work or live in a stressful, toxic environment. This person likely already has hormonal imbalances and a highly inflamed brain. A brain injury is going to be much more devastating as a result.
Also, hormonal status in midlife can play a big role in how the brain responds to injury as the sex hormones are highly protective of the brain. For the woman or man who experiences a steep decline in hormone production in midlife, their brain is much more vulnerable to damage and slower recovery after a TBI.
You may think hormone replacement therapy is the answer, and in some people it may be, but in functional neurology we look at the various dietary and lifestyle conditions that create hormonal imbalances and work to address those.
We customize rehabilitative functional neurology strategies based on the type of damage a patient's brain received and pre-existing metabolic health.
We also examine and address the function of related systems, such as the vestibular system, or inner ear; the vagus nerve, an information highway that connects the brain to the organs; and the visual system. Working with these systems, which are so integral to brain function, is a vital to rehabilitation.
If your hormones have been out of whack since your concussion, or brain injury, ask my office how we can help. You can all our office at 317-848-6000 or contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com
Back pain complaints are often met with instruction to build up your core strength, and indeed this is important for better stability and protection for your back. But building core strength helps in another important way — it activates areas of the brain that can enhance stability, reduce pain, and naturally improve posture.
When many people think of the core, they think of six-pack abs we see on gym posters. But the core is basically the entire trunk of your body. The core includes the:
Many people develop chronic back pain because of a undiagnosed brain imbalance. The brain coordinates with the eyes and the inner ear to perceive where it is in relation to the environment.
When that information is incorrectly interpreted due to a brain imbalance, the brain may believe the body is falling forward or backwards. To compensate, it adjusts the posture to lean in the opposite direction of the perceived fall. This all happens without a person’s conscious awareness, and can start in infancy.
This constant over correcting creates not only bad posture, but also areas of muscular weakness and tension that affect the spine and other parts of the body, often resulting in chronic pain. These people may also find standing for a short length of time causes fatigue and back pain.
It’s also not uncommon for people with this issue to struggle with anxiety — the constant sense of falling is a source of chronic stressor that can manifest as anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings.
People often report a reduction in back pain and better posture when they take on a core strengthening program. Although strengthening and stretching the core muscles is a vital part of that rehabilitation, it also exercises the midline cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for, among other things, movement, coordination, and posture. By repeatedly activating the core muscles, you are stimulating this part of the brain.
How do you know if brain imbalances play a role in your back pain or posture, and whether core exercises can help you?
The best way is to conduct your own field sobriety test — that’s right, the same one cops give to suspected drunk drivers. This is because being drunk also affects the cerebellum. It’s not uncommon for people with posture and back pain issues to also have poor balance due to a cerebellar issue.
A core strengthening program should emphasize good form so you don’t risk injuring yourself. It should also include attention to stability and alignment. A brain imbalance will often cause a person to stand or lie crooked when they think they are straight because the brain is incorrectly perceiving the body’s position.
Pilates is one excellent core strengthening technique that incorporates these strategies along with mindfulness and breath work, which are also great brain rehabilitators.
If you have back pain, poor balance, anxiety, mood issues, gut problems, a previous brain injury, or other symptoms, a functional neurology rehabilitation protocol may be the vital boost you need. Many times when people get stuck on a functional medicine protocol, it’s because a brain-based issue is promoting inflammation and metabolic imbalances.
Ask my office for more information on how we can help you achieve better brain health. You can reach us at 317-848-6000 or contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You don't have to receive a blow to the head to suffer from brain injury. In fact, you can even injure your brain while wearing a helmet. This is because brain tissue is very delicate - the consistency of soft butter or egg white - and floats inside a skull lined with hard ridges. Impacts to the body, falls, and neck injuries are all it takes to injure the brain, especially if they happen repeatedly.
Here are some ways you can sustain a brain injury without ever hitting your head:
Hard falls: When you fall your brain slams into one side of your skull and then the other. People who engage in activities that involve falling and crashing regularly (football, extreme sports, roller derby, etc.) should be aware of signs of brain injury, even if they wear a helmet.
Body slams (such as in contact sports): Likewise, full impact hits to the body knock the brain around inside the skull.
Landing on your tailbone: Although landing on your tailbone results in a sore bum, your brain is also victim to the force sent up the spine.
Whiplash: Whiplash is a double whammy to the brain, which is why car accidents can be so devastating even if you didn't directly injure your head. Not only does the whiplash send the brain crashing back and forth inside the skull, but the shearing and twisting forces in the neck can also damage the brain stem. The brain stem may look simply like the connection between the brain and the neck, its an extremely important center of brain function. Damage to the brain stem can cause anxiety, insomnia, extreme moodiness, gut problems, autonomic problems, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds.
Falls and crashes also damage the fragile inner ear, or vestibular system, which plays a vital role in brain function and integrity.
The reason football players and extreme athletes are making headlines is because repeated impacts to the body and head continually inflame and damage the brain, overwhelming its ability to recover until it eventually succumbs to dementia and Alzheimer's.
Brain injury increases risk for more brain injury
One of the most prominent signs of brain injury is worsened balance and coordination. Unfortunately, these symptoms predispose a person to further injure their brain due to increased clumsiness. Just one concussion increases the risk of a second by 150 percent. After two concussions, your risk for a third goes up by 300 percent. This is why it's so important to seek functional neurology and functional medicine interventions right away when you suspect you have injured your brain.
Poor brain health increases brain injury risk
It's not just how many times your brain slams around inside your skull that matters, but also the general health of your brain prior to injury. This is why some people recover more quickly from injury than others. If you eat fast foods regularly, are deficient in vital brain nutrients - such as essential fatty acids and vitamin D have undiagnosed food sensitivities (especially to gluten), or suffer from hormonal imbalances or deficiencies, your brain is going to fare more poorly after an injury.
Because inflammation in the brain does not have an "off switch" the way it does in the body, brain inflammation is like a slow moving fire that can damage tissue for months and even years, causing symptoms long after the insults.
The good news is that for all its fragility, the brain is an amazing organ when it comes to recovery and repair. It will eagerly respond to functional neurology and functional medicine protocols to improve function, dampen disorders, and enhance its overall integrity.
Ask my office how we can help you get back your brain health and function. You can call us at (317) 848-6000 or you can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
About one in four Americans suffer from migraines, or head pain that lasts four to 72 hours, in the United States and it's a leading cause of disability. Fortunately, by understanding how metabolic disorders affect the brain, we can use functional neurology and neurochemistry to help many people with migraines find lasting and significant relief.
Many migraine sufferers feel they miss out on much of their lives. It's hard to make commitments to social events, concerts, picnics, or other events because they never know when they'll be felled by a migraine. Many migraine patients are also dependent on one or more drugs to function, and some of these drugs can cause rebound migraines!
When a migraine is coming on or hits, symptoms may include not only pain but also inability to tolerate light or sound, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, numbness and tingling in different parts of the body, visual auras, déjà vu, hallucinations, and more. These symptoms are important clues in functional neurology to help us determine which part of the brain is affected during the migraine. For instance, visual auras indicate an issue in the occipital lobe, which governs vision, while déjà vu signals a migraine affecting the temporal lobe, which plays a role in time perception.
What exactly causes a migraine?
It has long been believed migraines happen when blood vessels to a region of the brain dilate, or enlarge, pressing on nerve fibers around them. However, other research suggests the pain is due not to widening blood vessels but rather extra sensitive nerve fibers surrounding them. Either way, inflammation seems to play a key role in the painful throbbing and pounding. The trick is to find out the underlying cause of the inflammation. This is where functional neurology and functional medicine come in.
Unstable blood sugar
Clinically, we see many cases of migraines significantly improve, if not resolve, simply by stabilizing the patient's blood sugar. Most Americans are on a roller coaster of blood sugar lows and highs thanks to diets that are too high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, and too low in healthy, whole foods.
For others, they eat too little and too infrequently, keeping their body and brain constantly in a state of low blood sugar. For these people, eating small bites of protein more frequently throughout the day can help prevent migraines.
Blood sugar lows and highs are highly stressful and inflammatory to the body and brain and a primary root cause to many chronic health disorders, including migraines. The first step in addressing migraine should always be to stabilize blood sugar and follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
Iron deficiency anemia
Anemia is another commonly overlooked cause of migraines we sometimes see clinically. If a migraine patient tests low in iron, sometimes supplementing with iron can profoundly impact migraine symptoms. Of course, you'll want to address why you have anemia too.
One of the more common, and complicated, causes of migraines in women is a hormone imbalance involving estrogen and progesterone. Hormone imbalances require a comprehensive functional medicine approach to address the reasons for the imbalance - chronic stress, blood sugar imbalances, poor gut health, inflammation, chronic infection, etc. Many women are low in progesterone due to chronic stress, which robs the body of the precursors necessary for progesterone to make stress hormones instead. Other common female hormone issues include excess estrogen, low estrogen, or excess testosterone. Appropriate levels of the sex hormones help regulate the immune system and inflammation.
This is a very cursory overview of some potential mechanisms for migraines, which can be different for everyone. Previous head injuries are another common factor to consider. If you have migraines, ask my office for a consultation.You can contact our office at 317-848-6000 or you can reach Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.