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Genetics and Health

How much do your “genetics” actually control your health?

It has become a common thing to blame genetics as the reason for a lot of health maladies. What role do genetics play in health and the development of disease?

To tackle this question, we must first understand the role and function of genetics. Every single cell in your body (except red blood cells) has a  unique set of genetic material made up of DNA which is a series of codes that specific molecules can read and do certain things with. It is essentially just a recipe that your body attempts to follow. “Genes” are sections of your DNA that code for a specific thing. For example, you have specific genes that dictate every physical attribute about your yourself and also what proteins get made that run every process that happens in your body.

If all cells have the exact same DNA and set of genes, how then can you have different cells in the body that function and look completely different? This is the completely amazing and miraculous thing about how we were created. A neuron can be up to 4 feet long and is completely different from a cell that makes and secretes hydrochloric acid into the stomach for digestion. These differences in the structure and function of cells happen when certain genes are turned on or off during the process in which new cells are created and mature. These differences in gene expression in a particular cell also dictate the needs for that particular cell (in terms of energy or nutrients) and therefore the function that cell is responsible for (i.e. making stomach acid, making and releasing hormones, providing structure, receiving and sending nerve signals, etc). These functions are accomplished by hundreds or even thousands of proteins that are produced by the cell’s DNA.

There are genetic disorders that are passed on that directly affect a certain protein’s function in the body and cause an inevitable disease such as Down syndrome or Sickle Cell Anemia. In other cases, there are genetic variations in inherited genes that result in things like varying reactions to medications, “predisposition” or even protection for a certain disease, or nothing at all. Genetic “predisposition” means that because of a certain gene variant, you may be more susceptible to a certain disease but it does not mean that you will develop the disease. There are other factors like lifestyle and environment that also affect the development of a potential disease positively or negatively. For example, it has been shown that healthy lifestyles (exercise, diet, stress management, etc.) can counteract a genetic predisposition to being overweight.

What does this all mean for your health?

You may or may not know of any genetic variations you have that could have potential impacts on your health. However, more and more research is showing that genetics are just a part of disease development. Epigenetics are another factor. “Epi” means above or upon. Therefore, “epi-genetics” means upon or on top of genetics. Epigenetic changes do not change the DNA itself, but are external and can change how the body reads a certain gene (turning it on or off). Some of these changes are reversible and are impacted positively or negatively by lifestyle (diet, alcohol, exercise), exposure to environmental toxins (metals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals), and environment (in utero, stress, work habits). In early childhood, the brain is particularly susceptible to epigenetic change through positive and negative experiences. Others of these changes can become permanent after long-term adverse experiences.

While a lot of the environments in which you grew up in and the genetics you were given are out of your control, there are changes you can make now that can positively impact your health and longevity.

Here are some positive diet and lifestyle changes that have been shown to impact epigenetics:
– Folate and Vitamin B12: Both of these B vitamins are essential in DNA metabolism and are epigenetically active.

– Other nutrients with protective effects: selenium, SAM, choline, resveratrol, methionine, etc.
– Polyphenols: These types of compounds are found in plants such as berries, beans, nuts, seeds, spices, etc.
– Dietary patterns: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats (less saturated fats and red meats)
– Physical activity: Exercise and overall physical activity has been shown to be epigenetically protective.

Here are some substances that have been known to negatively impact epigenetics:
– Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: These types of chemicals interfere with our body’s hormone signaling pathways. Examples of these chemicals include phthalates and parabens (used in beauty and personal care products), BPA, Atrazine (herbicide), etc. (refer to this earlier blog post for more information)
– Heavy metals and environmental pollutants: arsenic, lead, mercury, and air pollution (refer to this earlier blog post for more information)
– Alcohol and tobacco consumption: Overconsumption of both of these substances are pro-inflammatory and associated with increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

This information is not meant to scare you or make you feel like you can control every thing that happens in your body. Sometimes things still happen that we can’t control or that we tried to actively prevent. Please reach out to your doctor if you would like assistance in figuring out how you can change your lifestyle to positively benefit you and your genetics!


How Do I Stay Hydrated?

What functions does water perform in the body, what harm can dehydration do, and should I take electrolytes?

With the blazing sun and high temperatures here this week, now is a good time to talk about the immense importance of staying hydrated.

We all know that we must drink a fair amount of water each day, and we also know that we probably do not drink enough water. Water is not often seen as a “nutrient” because it does not offer our bodies any energy; however, it is one of the most crucial nutrients because we can only live about 3 days without it.

Other than the fact that our bodies are roughly 60% water, there are many other important functions that water performs. The one that most people are aware of is the fact that water makes you pee. About 90% of your blood plasma is water which is important for the filtering process that occurs in the kidneys. Sufficient water intake is important for removing wastes out of your body through the kidneys into the urine or through bowel movements.

Another important function of water is temperature regulation. We all know that when our bodies get warm, we sweat. Sweat is produced by glands in the skin and is composed of mostly water, small amounts of various mineral salts (electrolytes) and other chemicals like ammonia and urea. The sweat vaporizes on the skin’s surface, cooling the body down. Similarly, when the body is overheated, the heat gets transferred to the blood which gets taken to the blood vessels under the surface of the skin where the heat can be transferred to the air.

You might have experienced a dehydration headache in the past as well. Even a 1 – 2% loss in body weight due to mild dehydration can result in loss of concentration and other cognitive symptoms such as headaches or short-term memory issues. The brain needs hydrated blood in order to deliver oxygen and other nutrients that are essential to its optimal functioning. Therefore, adequate hydration is essential for brain health.

A few other important functions that water performs are blood pressure regulation and heart health, transportation of nutrients, oxygen, proteins, hormones, etc. in the body, digestive health, and lubrication for muscles and joints. 

Once you become dehydrated, your body begins to lose its ability to tolerate the heat stress. Therefore, it is important to stay on top of hydration especially when you are spending long periods of time in the heat, performing intense exercise, or in an area of higher elevation.

What’s the way to hydrate yourself, especially when dehydrated?

One of the signals our body has to tell us we are dehydrated is thirst. We’ve all been in the situation where we are hot and dying of thirst, and we finally get the ice cold water bottle and chug it all down in 3 seconds. However, this often results in the water getting quickly excreted in the urine instead of staying in the body to do its jobs.
There is not a standard recommendation of water for everyone because our needs change based on variables such as the weather, activity level, the presence of a virus, etc. You should be able to tell whether or not you are hydrated though.

Here are some tips for good hydration:
– Drink small amounts of water throughout the entire day instead of large amounts at a time
– Consume foods with more water in them such as fresh fruits and vegetables (dehydrated fruits and vegetables have lost most of their water content), soups, smoothies, etc.
– Carry around a glass or stainless steel water bottle during the day so you don’t forget to drink water (avoid plastic if you can as chemicals from the plastic can leech into your water- especially with acidic beverages)
– Add a slice of lemon, lime, or other types of garnishes (strawberries, basil, oranges, etc.) to improve the taste of the water
– Drink an entire glass of water when you first wake up in the morning and before you go to bed

What are electrolytes and should I take extra electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals in the body that have an electric charge. We need these minerals in our bodies because they help maintain our body’s pH, allow nerves, muscles, heart and brain tissue to function properly, and move nutrients into and wastes out of the cells. Parts of the water molecule have a partial charge and therefore cause it to be attracted to things with a charge like electrolytes. Therefore, the presence of glucose and electrolytes in a water solution (like in a gatorade or another sports drink) help to further increase water absorption in the GI tract. When we sweat, we lose a small amount of these essential minerals. This is the idea behind sports hydration drinks. If you are only sweating a normal amount, you are likely replenishing those electrolytes with your normal food (sodium from salt, and potassium from bananas, potatoes, cantaloupe, etc.).

However, if you are losing larger amounts of these minerals (during strenuous exercise, or with vomit or diarrhea), then you probably do need to consume additional electrolytes when rehydrating. Make sure to check with your doctor before supplementing with electrolytes as it is possible to consume too many electrolytes and your body likes to keep an equilibrium to maintain proper functioning. 

In most situations, all you need to do to stay hydrated is drink plenty of water and be aware of when you may need to consume more electrolytes. 

Visit to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today!


Are Artificial Dyes Harmful to Me?

Do artificial dyes cause any harm and should they be avoided?

As “natural” products have gained more popularity in the last several years, we have started to see more and more claims on the outside of products like “non-GMO”, “no artificial ingredients”, or “no artificial dyes”.

Artificial food dye consumption has increased 400% in the last 50 years. We are only now beginning to see some of the long-term effects of regularly consuming food additives, especially in children who are more likely to eat brightly colored foods with food dyes.

What food dyes are common in the US and which ones should be avoided?

The FDA has approved 9 different artificial dyes for food and beverage use; however, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6 are most common in the US. The European Union has stricter regulations that require certain dyes and food additives to have warning labels on the food products. What warnings are on there?

Most of the research that has been done has been in regard to the effect on activity, attention, and behavior in children. 

In the current scientific literature, there is a supported correlation between artificial dye consumption and adverse behavioral outcomes in children, especially in a specific subset of the population. More and more studies are being conducted to figure out the mechanism by which these artificial dyes could cause problems. Blue No. 1 is able to cross the blood brain barrier, which could be a possible mechanism of altering brain activity. Additionally, food dyes have the ability to alter the concentrations of certain trace elements in the body which are important for brain function. Yellow No. 5 has been shown to cause inflammation in the stomach. 

The problem is that while it is required by law for all dyes to be included in the ingredient list on the nutrition label, it is not required to include the amount in the product. Therefore, the knowledge about the actual amount of exposure we’re getting is unknown. An acceptable daily intake (ADI) was established by the FDA; however, the standards were established decades ago and not with the effect of behavior problems in children in mind. These standards have not been changed since then even though the standards were lowered by the WHO and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Regulations are set by the FDA for the maximum amount of an additive allowed in a food product, and they are supposed to test domestic and imported goods for compliance to these standards; however, how often that actually happens is questionable. 

Additionally, these food dyes are used so widely and in products that the consumer may not be aware of like fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, soft drinks, flavored yogurts, hydration powders, baked goods, sausage casings, processed fruits and vegetables, chips and much more. These additives are also in products the consumer may be aware of like candy, frostings, breakfast cereals, puddings, processed snacks, etc. 

While there seems to be a correlation between food dye consumption and adverse behavior in children, there is no evidence to say that artificial dye consumption is the cause of attention and behavior issues. 

It is always good though to be aware of what is in the food that you are consuming. Take some time to look at the nutrition labels of the foods in your pantry. You may be surprised to figure out how many things you eat on a daily basis have food dyes in them.


Why do Headaches/ Migraines Hurt So Bad?

What causes headaches/ migraines and why do they hurt so bad?

This really is the million dollar question. June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness month, so we’re going to talk about headaches and migraines. Headaches are a common reason for someone coming into a chiropractic office, or just to the doctor’s office in general. 

First though, we are going to distinguish between a headache and a migraine.

A migraine is a distinct subclass of neurological disorder- a sensory processing disorder. A person experiencing a migraine “episode” often has other sensory symptoms such as visual disturbances, nausea, light and/ or sound sensitivity, and weakness- or even symptoms like digestive issues. Migraines are usually characterized as more of an “attack” lasting for longer periods of time if not treated. Though the cause is less known, the mechanisms by which pain is caused is pretty similar and usually involves some sort of hyperactive or hypersensitive component which can exacerbate or prolong symptoms. 
Headaches usually have more of a known cause than migraines and occur when the pain-sensitive areas of the brain are activated. Headaches are classified into types based on their cause such as tension, allergy, caffeine, etc. They are usually characterized as more of a symptom with pain somewhere on the head being the pain complaint. Pain can be mild or debilitating, and can also accompany other symptoms like nausea or light/ noise sensitivity. 

It might surprise you to figure out that brain tissue itself cannot feel pain. The pain is caused by pain-sensitive nerve endings in the body that react to certain stimuli or triggers (like muscles in your head or neck, nerves or blood vessels surrounding, brain chemical activity, certain foods, medications, etc). The trigeminal nerve (the 5th cranial nerve) is the largest of the cranial nerves and provides sensory information from the head and neck like pain, temperature, and touch to the brain. It has three branches that send nerve signals to the thalamus which is the part of the brain that receives these signals, processes them, and sends the information to other areas of the brain to become aware of the pain, manage emotional responses, and create other responses like nausea, vomiting, and other neurologic symptoms. 

When you or someone you love suffers from recurring migraines and/ or headaches, you can often feel very powerless in helping them. Since the causes of headaches and migraines, and therefore the best treatment for their specific kind of headache/ migraine are often hard to pinpoint, I am going to give you some ideas for things you can do to help improve things that typically worsen or stimulate headaches:

– Eat 3-5 meals daily at regular times: Having a low blood sugar or skipping meals can be a trigger, so try to eat at least 3 full meals a day with proteins, carbs, and fats and mix in healthy snacks to keep you going
– Monitor your intake of beverages: Dehydration is a common trigger. Additionally, alcohol and caffeine (or lack of) can also be triggers
– Food as a trigger: foods such as chocolate, aged cheeses, fermented goods, artificial sweeteners, or processed/ cured meats can be triggers, so it is a good idea to keep a food journal to rule out a particular food or drink as the cause
– Avoid environments with loud or sudden noises, bright lights, or strong odors as they can also be triggers
– Incorporate regular stress-reducing activities such as stretching/ yoga, exercise, or breathing exercises to help manage stress, depression, anxiety, etc. 
– Establish a regular sleeping pattern so that you go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Getting too much or too little sleep can be a trigger

All of this being said, there are still things out of your control that can be triggers such as medications, weather changes, hormonal changes and much more. Therefore, it is a good idea to establish a good foundation by eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise as tolerable, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good amount of sleep. Reach out to your doctor and ask about lifestyle changes that can help you manage your migraines and/ or headaches.

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