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the treeof life
b y j o a n n e P i z z i n o , md . M P H m e d i c a l c o - e d i t o r
brain on fire
id you know that chronic inflammation has now been
shown to be the root cause of “everything aging,” from
osteoporosis to cancer? This absolutely necessary,
elegantly vital process stops invaders in their tracks, seals
wounds, and replaces damaged tissues, often as good as
new. Outside the brain and spinal cord, a system of checks
and balances limits the inflammation to the site of harm.
Nevertheless, common lifestyle choices can override this builtin guardian, leading to a conflagration out of control. We usually
don’t feel the glowing embers as plaques build in arteries,
bones crumble to dust, and neurofibrillary tangles choke brain
function. Unlike the rest of the body, the brain can’t wall off
the inflammation. Everything from a mild concussion to spiking
blood sugar can tip over a fiery set of dominos without limits
in the brain.
New evidence now links brain inflammation to a myriad
of common cognitive and emotional dysfunctions, including
depression and anxiety, attention deficit, autism, Alzheimer’s/
Parkinson’s/vascular dementias, even the cotton-candy
sensation of “brain fog.” So, where is all this inflammation
coming from? The gut.
Yo u r M i crobiome
Home to two-thirds of your immune system, multiple
feedback loops show direct influence of the gut on the brain,
and vice versa. All that immune system is not just located in your
gut for convenience. It is also home to most of the 90 trillion
cells that are, well, not you—bacteria, viruses, protozoa, yeasts.
Major yuck factor here. You mean to say I am full of germs?
Precisely. You’ve been told your whole life to avoid germs.
You’ve swallowed multiple antibiotic pills to attack them. To be
sure, there are differences between the pathogenic organisms
that cause disease, and the trillions of microorganisms that are
fully necessary to life. Since their discovery in the last decade,
research has exploded with information about what is now
often referred to as its own organ system, the microbiome.
Most of these microscopic critters are either commensal
(along for the ride) or symbiotic (mutually beneficial). You
have probably heard of these beneficial bugs as “probiotics,”
meaning promoting life. The majority of digestion occurs
because of them, as well as the production of a number of vital
biochemicals, including neurotransmitters. They communicate
closely with our immune system. True allies, we can invite them
on-board to fight against other invaders.
As our knowledge of these allies has grown, we have
learned that utilizing their help to stay healthy is much
more complicated that just swallowing generic probiotics.
The diversity of over 30,000 species cannot be provided by
just monoculture foods such as yogurt either. Fermented
vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi provide a wider
variety of beneficial species. And, since you literally are what
your microbiome eats, supporting the necessary variety is
another important reason to choose fresh unprocessed foods,
especially more vegetables and fruits.
What else can you do to help contain and eliminate the
inflammation that may be clouding your brain? A number of
natural compounds have been shown to directly affect brain
inflammation. While I always encourage getting most nutrients
from food, it is sometimes necessary to use higher doses
than can be obtained by a healthy diet. Consider checking the
content of your usual diet to see if you get these levels of antiinflammatory nutrients known to quench brain fires:
• The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA both reduce
inflammation, and it turns out that DHA does it better in the
brain. 1000 mg of DHA daily recommended.
• Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric is now being
studied for dementia prevention and treatment. Aim for
a high quality extract of curcumin 500 mg to improve bioavailability.
• Resveratol works synergistically with curcumin. Consider a
bio-available extract of 200 mg per day.
If medications are not sufficiently helping your mood, or you
think you are too young (or too young-at-heart!) to be having
“senior moments,” the providers at Whole Health Solutions
can help you successfully put out the fire. We use specialized
epigenetic testing as well as focused microbiome-balancing
strategies that one delighted patient described as “that was
like getting a 100-point increase in my IQ!” h&h
Joanne Pizzino, MD, MPH, and Karen Saylor, FNP, specialize in Integrative Medicine, including
functional medicine therapies to improve brain function, mood and fatigue. Learn how epigenetic testing,
condition-specific nutrition, botanical medicine and detoxification can improve cognitive function.
To take memory tests, learn about mild cognitive impairment, brain exercises and more, visit this link on
our website: For more information, contact:
Whole Health Solutions, 1350 SE Maynard Rd. # 201, Cary NC 27511, (919) 651-0820
Originally published in Health & Healing in the Triangle, Vol. 18, No. 6, Health & Healing, Inc., Chapel Hill, NC, publishers. Reprinted with permission.