Dopamine Deficiency Part II: The Medication Connection
When the topic of substance abuse is broached, the neurotransmitter dopamine is often brought into the conversation. Recalling our earlier discussion, dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and directly influences the way our brain achieves happiness by “guiding” our behavior to get to that feeling. Heroin, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy) are three of the bigger illicit guns that initially trigger a surge of dopamine in the body. Sugar also induces a massive (but short lived) dopamine surge. The body is filled with protective mechanisms (thankfully!), and if dopamine surges continue, a mechanism will kick in that reduces the number of dopamine receptors available for triggering. Consequently, it becomes harder and harder to achieve the same feelings of pleasure. As you may have already guessed, common opioid prescription medications do this too especially when used chronically. Some offenders would include:
When you review the introduction to dopamine deficiency (see Part I), you’ll notice that neurodegenerative conditions, chronic back pain, aches and pains, and persistent constipation are symptoms of deficiency. Those are also four very common complaints in people who use these pain medications chronically. Certainly, other factors are involved as well (do some digging!), but dopamine deficiency plays a significant role.
Dopamine sabotage by way of medication💊 is also an unfortunate common side effect of drugs that block dopamine binding to receptor sites. When a medication does this, dopamine cannot “do its work” in the body.
💊Haloperidol is used to treat schizophrenia, Tourettes, and severe behavioral problems in children and adults.
💊Risperidone is used to treat schizophrenia, disinterest in life, strong or "inappropriate" emotions, or disturbed thinking.
💊Metoclopramide is used to treat GERD, nausea/ vomiting, and slowed gut motility.
💊Olanzapine, Aripiprazole, Quetiapine are used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.
💊Buspirone is used to treat anxiety.
🧐If you were to pick up and read a package insert on each of these medications, you would find side effects listed giving evidence of dopamine deficiency (refer to Part I for symptoms).
What I write next might be the most technical and one of the most important concepts to understand in this entire book, so stay with me…. even if the slogging feels uphill! According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 1 in 5 adults have a mood disorder in the USA. Sadly, when prowling around the NIMH website, I found very little in the way of suggesting lab work to rule out a hormonal, thyroid, or nutrient imbalance, or selfcare suggestions (clean diet, well developed exercise routines, tips on improved sleep hygiene, or connecting with a high frequency community, and most importantly, having a personal relationship with God). The website is quick to advocate for mental health medicating. Go figure.
💊Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are a class of drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Common SSRI’s include 💊Citalopram, 💊, Fluoxetine, 💊Paroxetine, and 💊Sertraline. By definition, this class of drugs is supposed to be “selective” in their mechanism of action, and while they are marketed as products that raise serotonin in the brain, they simultaneously lower dopamine levels significantly. Additionally, there is very strong evidence that, depending on the individual and the SSRI used, there may be a significant effect on the HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) axis in the brain, where cortisol, hormones (including serotonin and dopamine) are regulated and long term memories are stored. The hypothalamus and the pituitary play a significant role in regulating the thyroid. You may imagine how important all of this is in balanced overall body and brain function.
I offer this information to you as clues, not as medical direction or individualized medical advice. Risk versus benefit should always be first and foremost whenever utilizing a medication, especially one that modulates “motherboard” (brain) activity. I read one doctor’s thoughts recently who described antidepressant use as a “sledgehammer to repair a fine watch.” Does the tool fit the need? That is only for you and your healthcare provider to decide.
Last week, I listened to a podcast that dovetailed into this topic. It is called “Unscientific Diagnoses Medicalize Normal Human Experience”. I’ve posted a link to this 30 minute podcast on my blog (found on my website www.goodmedicine.info). You won’t regret listening to it. We must get back to living in tightly knit communities where we love and care for one another well while also learning that experiencing emotions in a healthy manner is part of vibrant living. I’m so very very thankful for Young Living, because we exemplify that community, and there is plenty of room at the table for everyone who wants to #knowbetteranddobetter for themselves and their families.
We live in a broken world that is bandaged by a broken medical system. I encourage you to use your finely tuned tools for finely tuned processes in the body. Whenever possible, leave the sledgehammer in the shed.
Next week, I’ll discuss readily available inexpensive tools to help support optimal dopamine levels.
(If you answered #2, you’d be correct!)
Dopamine Deficiency: Part I
“Feel good brain juice”
Dopamine is all those things and more. It’s a “VIP” neurotransmitter produced within the body whose job description is critical for optimal brain and body function. While dopamine occupies less than 1% of the neuron real estate in the brain, it is a key ingredient for important and finely tuned tasks:
*Controls flow of information within the brain
*Holds a critical role in memory, attention, and problem solving
*Contributes to motor skills and cognitive abilities
*Plays a supportive role in reproduction
*Activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain
*Holds a key role in attention and learning
*Reduces insulin levels in the body
*Protects the digestive system
*Influences the immune system
*Strongly affects mood and emotions
Dopamine is one of the most widely studied neurotransmitters, and yet there is still so much to discover. There is no direct way to measure levels of dopamine in the brain, so healthcare professionals must evaluate clues just like we are about to do: symptoms, lifestyle habits, medical and medication history are all important factors in becoming aware of what a dopamine deficiency might look like. I often wonder how we operate as we do, given the millions of things that can go wrong in the human body. Thankfully, God designed each body with the incredible ability to restore balance if given the correct tools and time to do so.
Do you remember how easily the gut can be brought out of balance with a pesky virus or an overpopulation of an aggressive bacteria or fungi? The same is true with dopamine. Incrementally small swings of dopamine can make a big impact in either direction. Too much dopamine can lead to some pretty challenging mental health disorders. Dopamine deficiency can be mild or it can be major. Major dopamine deficiency is linked to Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, major depressive disorder, certain neurodegenerative disorders, and addictions. Identifying a dopamine deficiency trend early on allows for the time and tools to assist in bringing the body back into balance. I’ll wager that some of these clues may surprise you:
🔎Struggle to handle stress well (often leading to feelings of hopelessness and low self esteem)
🔎Carbohydrate and sugar cravings
🔎Chronic back pain
🔎Poor blood sugar stability
🔎Lack of motivation (may show up as learning difficulties)
🔎Impulsiveness (Alleviates feelings of loneliness and sadness. Self gratification is used to “force” a dopamine drop that ultimately only creates more depletion long term.
🔎Difficulty organizing thoughts or staying productive
🔎Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
🔎Tremor in the hands
🔎Cold hands or feet
🔎Fatigue or low energy
🔎Attention difficulties (may include a diagnosis of ADD/ ADHD)
🔎Low moods / depression
🔎Muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors
🔎Stiffness, aches or pains that have no cause
🔎Lack of insight or self awareness
How does a dopamine deficiency happen? Three possibilities exist: too little dopamine is being made, dopamine receptors are being hindered or are not available in the numbers needed, or dopamine is being broken down before it can be utilized. Neurotransmitters are just as much a product of the environment as the body is. Environment includes mindset, lifestyle, and habitual behavior. Dopamine deficiency is very much affected by all three:
❓Sleep deprivation (Are you using all your tools and knowledge to get a restful night of sleep? (Immupro, Sleep Essence, lavender, cedarwood, Peace & Calming, Rutavala, and Tranquil are great options.)
❓Adrenal fatigue (Do your adrenal glands need some supportive Endoflex or Endogize?)
❓Vitamin B6 or B3 deficiency (Are you taking Super B?)
❓Heavy metal exposure including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum. Mainstream cosmetics are a hidden contributor to daily heavy metal exposure. Lipstick is among the worst offenders. YL’s Savvy Minerals cosmetics line has many gorgeous, long lasting colors to choose from that are toxin free and dopamine friendly!
❓C Difficile overgrowth. This is often the result of antibiotic use. Always follow each antibiotic dose two hours later with a probiotic such as Life 9 or MightyPro and fermented foods to minimize risk of this occurrence.
❓Low magnesium, zinc, iron (Get proper lab work. Know your numbers, and supplement if necessary!)
❓Vitamin C deficiency (Are you taking your Super C Chewables?)
❓Vitamin D deficiency (Know your numbers and supplement with Super D or something stronger if your labs reflect the need.)
❓Obesity. This causes a downregulation of dopamine in the brain, and leads to a reduction of the number of receptors in the brain.
❓Drug abuse both depletes dopamine and reduces the number of receptors in the brain.
❓Diets high in saturated fats and sugar ultimately deplete dopamine resources.
❓Chronic stress affects the body’s ability to produce dopamine. Go back and review the section on stress for tips, tricks and habits to mitigate stress wisely.
❓Certain medications often have a disastrous effect on dopamine in the body.
The topic of medications and their effects on dopamine is so very important and unfortunately it is rarely discussed. I’ll devote next week’s post to that discussion! Life is too short to feel “meh” and live in jammies. If you’ve identified any areas of life that may be sabotaging your dopamine production or utilization, it’s always a great time to make some changes and invest in yourself!
Restless Leg Syndrome: Respite Part II
One of the honed skills of a most excellent detective revolves around the process of eliminating suspects. This is key in nabbing the right culprit. How many news stories have you read about the wrong person languishing in jail for a crime they didn’t commit? The same is true when parsing health clues…. We’ve got to find the true offender.
The reality is that there may be a single culprit, or a gang of culprits….. AND, there might be some shady characters who look suspicious, but are not the real troublemakers. As the lead health detective, you may choose to haul them in for questioning (closer evaluation), only to find out they are truly innocent. Don’t get discouraged…. readjust your Sherlock Holmes cap and move on to question the next suspect!
As you’ve learned, all restless leg syndrome cases are unique. Unfortunately, nearly all cases are treated the same way by introducing pharmaceuticals to mediate discomfort. The most common medications used are anti-seizure medications (ex: gabapentin), drugs to treat Parkinson’s (ex: levodopa/carbidopa), opioids (ex: tramadol), or benzodiazepines (ex: clonazepam). I can personally guarantee that while each of these may soothe the legs, if used long term, will lead to misery and/or dysfunction in another part of the body.
If you’d like to build some gentle DIY soothing support for restless legs while you work on finding the root cause, try these recipes and find the one that serves you best. You’ll not want to stop here tho, because the culprit is still on the loose.
(Each recipe makes a 10ml roller bottle)
20 drops Marjoram
20 drops Roman Chamomile
10 drops Lavender
10 drops Frankincense
Fill remaining space in roller bottle with carrier oil.
15 drops Lavender
10 drops Roman Chamomile
10 drops Vetiver
5 drops Lemongrass
5 drops Marjoram
5 drops Blue Yarrow
5 drops Peppermint
5 drops Clove
3 drops Ginger
3 drops black pepper
Fill remaining space in roller bottle with carrier oil.
AromaSiez (snap a roller fitment on that puppy and use as is!)
10 drops Peace & Calming
10 drops Panaway
10 drops Stress Away
10 drops Lavender
Fill remaining space in roller bottle with carrier oil
Other ways to naturally alleviate the discomfort of restless legs include:
*Reducing caffeine intake (especially after lunch)
*Weight loss (Recall that elevated BMI contributes to restless legs)
*Warm or cold compresses
*Avoiding certain foods including processed foods, fatty fried foods, sodas, sugar, excessive alcohol, and caffeine.
*Adding specific food “tools” to your diet (ex: cashews, almonds, peanuts or brown rice) that are rich in magnesium. If you add magnesium to your diet thru supplementation, you’ll want to look for forms such as glycinate or malate for maximum bioavailability.
*Balance your micronutrient load with Young Living’s Mineral Essence and NingXia Red. You’ll be so glad you added both of these to your routine!
*Young Living CBD muscle rub. CBD has a relaxing effect on the muscles and a calming effect on nerves.
*Work on ways to improve your natural dopamine levels.
*Quinine water (true tonic water)
If you’ve done your prep work, you may now have a line up of suspects causing your restless legs. I am an enormous advocate of proper and extensive lab work, as concrete answers eliminate the guesswork. It will save both time and frustration.
-Iron deficiency may be easily identified and treated once you have concrete lab work answers on both iron and ferritin levels. It’s not generally a good idea to supplement iron until you know. Too much iron in the body can be quite damaging over time.
-If you suspect a hormone imbalance (including thyroid) may be a contributing factor, lab work can confirm your suspicions.. A hormone imbalance will also yield many other possible clues. Find your clue cluster, and you’ll likely find the culprit, and then you can get to work on the solution!
-Nutritional deficiencies can be so very subtle, and don’t always have a strong set of clues. Magnesium is a simple and safe supplement to try if lab work simply isn’t possible. Ample magnesium in the diet is also helpful for reducing chronic constipation episodes, reducing symptoms of depression, improving PMS symptoms, preventing migraines, and more!
-Kidney disease can be a hard one, as both the disease itself and many medications used in chronic kidney disease patients are potential culprits.
-Arguably, drug 💊induced restless legs is among the biggest offenders. Not surprisingly, countries that do not rely on pharmaceuticals as their predominant mode of care have the lowest incidence of restless leg syndrome within their population. Additionally, these countries also tend to live within a diet structure that has minimal processed foods and sugars available to them.
Take a close look at the medications that can cause restless legs (last week’s post). The biggest known offenders are 💊acid reducers (ex: omeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole) 💊 escitalopram, 💊fluoxetine, 💊levodopa/carbidopa, 💊, levothyroxine, 💊mirtazapine, 💊olanzapine, and💊 tramadol. Many of these medications could be avoided with lifestyle choices and changes that address balancing mind, body, and spirit.
Approximately 10% of the population is on medication for heartburn and GERD related symptoms. According to a recent study:
“... consuming these powerful acid-blocking agents is strongly linked to a significantly higher incidence of restless legs syndrome, compared to those who did not consume these medications.”
Gah! Please go back and re-read all you’ve learned about the clues within the digestive system. Pairing up clues is the name of the game!
Finally, if you have children, remember that restless legs is not an “adults only” dysfunction. Up to 6% of kiddos have restless legs which often are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Kids are not always able to verbalize what they are experiencing, which can add to the challenge. Sleep, mood, cognition, and quality of life are significantly affected in the pediatric population. Not surprisingly, ADHD, depressive symptoms and anxiousness are often included in the clue cluster.
The Trail of Clues in Restless Leg Syndrome: Part I
OK friends, let’s take a quick quiz straight from the pages of the National Institute of Health. These 4 questions are a simple “yes” or “no” answer, and will help identify if this next set of clues resonates with your current situation.
✅Do you have a strong and often overwhelming need or urge to move your legs? (Often the urge may be accompanied by abnormal, unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations.)
✅Does the urge to move your legs start (or get worse) during rest and inactivity?
✅Does the urge to move your legs worsen in the evenings/at night?
✅Is the urge to move your legs partially or totally relieved by movement (at least temporarily)?
If you have answered yes to these questions, this post series may shed light on both why your legs may be restless and (next week) natural ways to help relieve the situation. Bear in mind that beyond the questions above, there are several mimickers of restless leg syndrome, so the process of elimination may come in handy! Poor circulation in the legs, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and ADD/ADHD are a few disorders known for restless leg mimicry.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a very common condition affecting about 10% of adults in the USA and even some children. There are several medications commonly used to treat RLS. According to many pharmacy clients I’ve worked with over the years, the medications are often minimally effective, not without unpleasant side effects (GI distress, constipation and/or diarrhea), and do not address root causes.
RLS is not generally a precursor of things to come thankfully….but it is highly annoying and life disruptive nonetheless, especially as it often leads to chronic insomnia.
As any good detective would do, you’ll want to discover the motive (root cause) of your RLS. Motives vary in each case, right?
*Occasionally, restless legs may be blamed on genetics, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Overwhelmingly, restless leg syndrome is given the dubious distinction of having an idiopathic origin. My personal feeling is that “idiopathic” is an overused medical term used when not enough time has been spent looking at clues to find the root cause! Understandably so….. insurance companies do not usually allow doctors the time or tools (comprehensive lab work) to actually find the source of the problem.
There are MANY factors leading to or exacerbating restless leg syndrome:
*Approximately 15% of RLS cases have an underlying iron deficiency. Iron deficiency may be easily checked with lab work. Checking iron alone is insufficient. Ferritin levels also need to be evaluated.
*Other nutritional deficiencies contributing to RLS include magnesium, calcium, potassium and/or zinc. Again, blood work is key. (If you get magnesium tested, make sure it is magnesium bound to red blood cells “mRBC” for a more accurate reading)
*Hormone imbalance is another common cause. Approximately 20% of pregnant women develop RLS, usually in the third trimester. This symptom tends to dissipate about 4 weeks after delivery of the baby. Women are more likely to have hormonal imbalances than men overall, and women are also more likely to develop RLS than men in life. Hyperthyroidism, another type of hormone imbalance, is an additional contributor.
*Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays many roles in the body, most notably in motivation and positive reinforcement of behavior. It also plays a critical role in the control of movement. So, as you might imagine, a dopamine imbalance may also play a key role in RLS. (We’ll cover dopamine deficiency in the near future.)
There also appears to be a relationship between ADD/ ADHD and restless leg syndrome. Additionally, pediatric restless leg disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed as growing pains or ADD.
*Symptoms of restless leg syndrome are common in people who have chronic kidney disease. When the kidneys are not functioning as they should, anemia, iron deficiency, and high calcium levels in the blood commonly occur. As you’ve just learned, all of those conditions exacerbate RLS.
*Hypertension, diabetes, and increased BMI (body mass index) also contribute to the incidence of restless leg syndrome. (The medications used to manage these conditions are also worthy suspects!) Uncontrolled high blood sugar often leads to peripheral nerve damage; another contributor to restless legs.
*Medication induced restless legs may be among the most common (idiopathic?) causes for developing this disorder. Every medication acts in multiple ways throughout the body. Immediate side effects of medication are fairly easy to spot, but often side effects such as restless legs creep in slowly, making it hard to pinpoint the culprit. Medications known to cause restless legs over time include:
💊Psychotropics (ex: haloperidol, aripiprazole, risperidone, quetiapine, mood stabilizers)
💊Antidepressants (SSRI’s,SNRI’s, and tricyclics, ex: fluoxetine, sertraline, venlafaxine, paroxetine, imipramine, amitriptyline)
💊Some nausea medications (metoclopramide and prochlorperazine)
💊Calcium channel blockers
💊Some sleep medications
I’ve talked to many pharmacy clients over the years who struggle with restless legs, and while it is a relatively benign condition, it is definitely life altering…anything that negatively affects quality sleep is! Westernized health culture is often very quick to prescribe or suggest over the counter medication to quickly solve a problem, overlooking the unintended possible consequences. Often, there is a gentler solution, but it does require ownership and a willingness to take personal responsibility for one’s own health management. There will always be a time and a place for western medicine, but it behooves us all to leave that as a last resort whenever possible.
I hope this helped someone identify their restless leg trigger(s). Next week I’ll talk about healthy options for living with RLS.
Raise your hand if you want a resilient nervous system.🙋♀️ Uh huh… that’s what I thought. I do too! 😊I want to be healthier overall, quicker to recover from stressful situations, happier, stronger, more empathetic, better able to concentrate, and have thriving relationships…. ALL things associated with healthy vagal tone.
Vagal tone should be nurtured daily if it is to function optimally. You might be surprised at how easy some of these tips are!
⭐Poor breathing habits. The sedentary nature of our current society has been no friend to the vagus nerve. Poor posture, including the downward tilt of the head as we look at our computer and phone screens restricts the airways from throat to lungs. If you walk into nearly any nursing home you will see posture associated with long term low vagal tone. Dr. Navaz Habib👨⚕️, author of Activate Your Vagus Nerve, makes a compelling argument that dysfunctional breathing is the most common cause of poor vagus nerve function. Friends, this is such an easy (and free) fix. Address posture (revisit that post!), and incorporate breathing slowly and “belly button” deeply at least a few times every hour. This is nourishing to the vagus nerve, and feels good too!
⭐Alternate nostril breathing👃. Inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the opposite nostril has a profound effect on the nervous system and an increase in oxygen consumption. One study found that inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril for approximately 3 minutes four times a day for a month increased oxygen consumption by 37% compared to normal breathing practices. (Doing the reverse activity.. Inhaling through the left and exhaling on the right showed an oxygen increase of 24%) It was suggested in the study that this type of breathing may reduce the release of stress hormones (a benefit in vagus nerve health). As an added bonus, you will likely find yourself more focused and awake by “right nostril breathing” and more relaxed and less anxious by “left nostril breathing”. Knowing this, consider supporting these techniques with Brain Power or En-R-Gee essential oil blends when “right nostril breathing”, or Tranquil, Peace and Calming, or Sacred Mountain essential oils blends when “left nostril breathing”.
⭐Prayer and meditation🙏 are both scientifically proven to increase parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) activity which improves vagal tone. Incorporating essential oils during prayer and meditation is a beautiful way to enhance both practices. Some of my favorites include Frankincense, Peace & Calming, RC, and Raven.
⭐Practice tensing stomach muscles or coughing on purpose.
⭐Massage…..even an ear massage. Massaging the areas of the ear👂 called the tragus and cymba concha can trigger a mild vagal response. Additionally, acupuncture or acupuncture point based therapy (check out Dolphin MPS for one such type) are hugely helpful.
⭐Keeping a positive attitude and emotion set. This is truly a “use it or lose it” situation. Affirmations and constructive emotions can spark a self fulfilling future for all aspects of the body, including vagal tone. Destructive emotions can also do this but in the opposite direction. (ex: If you believe you will fail, you probably will! ) Direct good thoughts and actions towards other people and watch your vagal tone improve. Act on kindness, compassion, and empathy. Doesn’t the world need more of this anyway? It’s fascinating that attitude alone can deeply impact the function of the vagus nerve. God has knit us together in wondrous ways!
⭐Belong to a socially active community 🧍♀️🧍♂️🧍♀️. Social isolation does no favors to vagal tone. Find your tribe and spend time with them in person. Oxytocin is a hormone which acts as a neurotransmitter. Its presence has a powerful effect on the health of the vagus nerve. Hugging, laughing, breastfeeding, speaking to someone in person or on the phone, being trusted by someone, and listening to soothing music are all ways to release oxytocin. Surprisingly, shooting guns can be included in this list!
⭐Eating correctly. Saying words of gratitude🙏 over your food actually stimulate the vagus nerve. Chewing slowly and eating mindfully (fully present) allows the body to recognize the type of nutrients being released into the body, and to release the appropriate enzymes and digestive juices needed to make them bioavailable (or boot them out as a toxin). It would come as no surprise that an unhealthy vagal tone has a negative effect on digestive juices, especially those released by the gallbladder.
⭐Intermittent fasting. There are a myriad of benefits of intermittent fasting, including decreasing inflammation in the body. Inflammation negatively affects vagal tone. Of course intermittent fasting is only one way to help the body in this manner. Any time you remove a toxin source from your body’s daily load, you will be showing your vagus nerve TLC. Thank goodness for the clean household and personal care products we have access to! #ThanksYL
⭐Foods that have been found to support healthy vagal tone include fermented foods (ex: kombucha, cheeses, plain yogurt), high fiber foods (ex: nuts, fruits, vegetables) and foods high in Omega3’s. If you feel you might not get enough of any of these food groups, supplement with YL Life -9 (or MightyZyme) probiotic, Balance Complete Meal Replacement, and OmegaGize3 (or Mindwise) respectively. Additionally, adequate zinc levels contribute to a healthy vagal tone. (You’ll want to go back and re-read the section on zinc. It may tie together some clues for you)
⭐How we sleep matters😴. Laying on the right side has the highest vagal stimulation.
⭐Gargling. This contracts the muscles in the back of the throat which causes direct stimulation of the vagus nerve. Humming (especially while covering the ears) and singing loudly are also helpful.
⭐Improving vagal tone thru exercise💪 and yoga is reason #100 to do both. Seriously. Mental and physical health will only improve in amazing ways when exercise and yoga are incorporated into healthy habits.
For the more adventurous spirit, other ways to spark quick vagal tone improvement include ❄️cold❄️ showers, ❄️ice baths❄️, ❄️cryotherapy ❄️ or coffee☕️ enemas (Yes indeedy! 😉).
Our brains are constantly checking on us to see if we feel safe or not. It is only when the brain perceives safety that we are able to engage socially, have curiosity, feel happy, and be playful. If it has been awhile since you’ve felt this way, this would be another set of clues indicating that your vagus nerve needs some additional love and attention.
It may seem hard to “want” to incorporate these suggestions into your healthy habits if all of this is new to you, but if you raised your hand a few minutes ago in a bid for resiliency, it’s time to do “the things.” Just like a teenager who is hard to wake up in the morning, waking up the vagus nerve may take perseverance. Find your tribe and work together to make those vagal nerves toned and happy!
PS: Friends, there is an enormous amount of information on the vagus nerve and polyvagal theory. If this has sparked your interest, please DO do some more digging on your own. There is simply no way to do this particular topic justice in a couple of posts.
A policema is on the trail of a very successful serial robber. Using the clues🔎 left behind at each crime scene, he finally identifies the robber and apprehends him. The only problem is that the robberies don’t stop, and they look strikingly similar to the original set of robberies. Now the policeman believes one of two things…… a copycat thief has emerged, or the original robber was actually working under the direction of a kingpin, and he was only one of the minions leaving the clues 🔎behind at each crime scene. The original robber isn’t talking, so the policeman must continue his investigation.
👆Sometimes that’s exactly what being a health detective can feel like!
Every body system affects the others, and clues that are viewed as “the problem” may be just one identifiable member affecting the health “crime scene”. Or perhaps, like the copycat robber, the clue (ex: anxiety) has more than one root cause to identify and correct.
Chronic stress may have seemed rather innocent until the truth of its ability to damage the body was unpacked in the last topic discussion. It is a kingpin. Another kingpin in the body is the state of health of the vagus nerve and there are a myriad of clues associated with this VIP portion of the nervous system.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, extending from the brainstem to the colon. It is responsible for the “rest and digest” activity of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract, with quite a few additional responsibilities added in for good measure. Some of its major contributing functions include:
⭐️Regulation of appetite
⭐️Control of bowel movements
⭐️Regulating heart rhythm
⭐️Stimulating gastric juice production
⭐️Controlling inflammation response
⭐️Encouraging testosterone production
⭐️Stimulating growth hormone (In adults, this is important for retaining muscle mass, strength, prevention of osteoporosis, concentration, preventing memory loss, and even slowing balding)
⭐️Regulating mood and emotions
⭐️Promoting healthy kidney and bladder function
⭐️Lowering and controlling blood sugar concentrations
⭐️Triggering the release of melatonin
⭐️Stimulating the body’s relaxation response allowing a more rapid recovery from stress, injury, or illness
⭐️Encouraging the storage of strong memories in the amygdala (which is essential for bonding and connecting with others relationally)
The vagus nerve also sends sensory information (on what we see, feel, taste, and hear) to the brain, and is intimately involved as a courier of information allowing the microbiome (the gut bacteria) to directly communicate with the brain. You might have heard of this referred to as the gut brain axis. This is extremely important because many of our neurotransmitters (especially serotonin and oxytocin…. two that contribute to the state of happiness) are directly affected by this feedback.
Having a low or poor vagal tone has a profound effect on the body. Clues pointing to possible vagus nerve dysfunction include:
🔎IBS, Ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s Disease
🔎Obesity, weight gain or weight loss
🔎Irregular heartbeat (both too fast or too slow)
🔎Gastroparesis (slowed movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine)
🔎Difficulty speaking, hoarse, or wheezy voice
🔎Pain in the ear
🔎Unusual heart rate
🔎Loss of gag reflex
🔎Chronic abdominal bloating or pain, nausea or vomiting
🔎Frequent headaches / migraines
🔎Poor glucose control
🔎Chronic feelings of disconnectedness or loneliness (Interesting, right? )
Common Causes of vagus nerve damage include:
🔥Chronic alcohol abuse
🔥Chronic stress / anxiety (Please revisit the information on ways to combat stress effectively!)
🔥Braces or extensive dental work (Revisit the post on the effect teeth have on the entire body)
🔥Posture (Revisit the clues related to posture.)
🔥Complications resulting from surgeries (especially those affecting the small intestine or stomach)
🔥Viral infections which are upper respiratory system focused
🔥Heavy metal toxicity (Heavy metals can be found in tooth fillings, vaccines, environmental contaminants, and even makeup. Young Living’s Savvy Minerals is a safe, beautiful and clean alternative! )
🔥Certain medications that affect the nervous system, including opioids, stimulants (ex: ADHD medications), immunosuppressants, sedatives, and many other prescription and OTC drugs. This is one more reason to identify and incorporate lifestyle changes whenever possible to avoid chronic drug use. Every single medication exerts a negative effect outside its intended target.
The vagus nerve is a key player in living a life of resiliency.🙌 It will come as no surprise that people with high vagal tone have lower incidence of diabetes, strokes, and cardiovascular diseases. They also tend to find it easier to relax😴 after stressful situations, are physiologically 💪stronger, happier, more empathetic, better able to concentrate and remember, and are more likely to have close relationships with others👫. Vagal tone is kind of a big deal! Luckily for all of us, there are some really fun and practical ways to show the vagus nerve a little extra TLC on the regular.
Test your gag reflex sometime soon. (Use a spoon handle and gently tickle the back of the throat on both sides. If you don’t have a gag response to the spoon handle, you’ve got some work to do😉!).
Next week I’ll cover simple ways to incorporate vagal TLC techniques into daily life. It’s important to keep the vagal nerve happy and healthy!
Chronic Stress Part III : Solutions
Today’s post is full of butterflies, kittens🐱, and unicorns (Literally!). That’s a welcome change, I’m sure, considering the sobering long term ramifications of unmitigated chronic stress we’ve talked about these past few weeks. Chronic stress usually creeps in on very soft feet, so consider taking a few minutes to answer this simple yes/no “day to day stress assessment”:
Coping with stress involves two steps:
1️⃣Recognizing the signs and symptoms of EARLY burnout and stress (you’ve got the tools now!)
2️⃣Activating any or all of the self care tools below.
Now, here’s the fun part….. Giving yourself some self care time by mixing and matching ways to “de-stress” on the regular. This is not a “once and done” experience. These are lifestyle changes for life!
👉Get regular exercise!
👉Engage in self care activities (ex: a long soaking bath or a massage)
👉Prayer, meditation, and/or quiet time with no electronic or television distractions
👉Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (aka CBT) . This can be a very valuable tool, especially if you find yourself trending in negative thinking patterns. I would really recommend picking up Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book and workbook, “Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling toxic thoughts and emotions” to begin diving deeper into this subject.
👉Journal. Write out your thoughts instead of letting them fester in your mind. Create a gratitude journal, write a letter you’ll never send to someone, or begin success journaling)
👉Turn off social media and electronics as often as your day allows.
👉Limit scrolling time
👉Get outside as much as possible and connect with nature. Go barefoot or get your hands on plants and in soil. (Grounding! ….. We’ve talked about this in previous posts)
👉Read something relaxing and nontriggering (ex: a work of fiction). Allow your brain to wander within the pages of the book.
👉Engage in Yoga, pilates, Tai Chi (soooo many health benefits!)
👉Practice breathing exercises ( left nostril breathing or box breathing are both excellent breathing patterns to quiet the mind)
Improve your sleep in both quality and quantity (we talked about that last week)
👉Try salt water floatation therapy for deep relaxation
👉Listen to 432 Hz frequency healing music ( check out the company WholeTones for more info!)
👉Laugh! It releases endorphins.
👉Spend time with a pet. Did you know that a cat’s purring frequency corresponds with established healing frequencies in therapeutic medicine for humans?
👉Practice saying no to the things that bring stress, and saying yes to the things that will bring joy.
👉Avoid procrastination and just do the thing. Learn time management techniques and goal setting.
👉Eat healthy nourishing foods
👉Engage in a hobby
👉Connect with actual people in a community….. In person. We are not created to be an island.
👉Examine your values and beliefs and then live by them. An enormous amount of internal stress comes from living differently from your beliefs and values.
👉Oils and Supplements. We have so many amazing tools to help us navigate stress:
🌿Lavender, Vetiver (Yes, it doesn’t smell great, so apply to bottoms of feet!), Bergamot, Roman Chamomile, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang, Orange, and Geranium are just a few oils known for their calming qualities.
🌿Young Living has created an amazing array of perfectly blended oils to help add to the peace and tranquility in our lives: StressAway, Tranquil, RutaVala, Peace and Calming, and Valor are just a few that come to mind.
🌿An herb called Ashwagandha is known for its beautiful ability to lower symptoms of stress in the body. It is one of the important ingredients in Young Living’s EndoGize (typically for women) and PowerGize (formulated for men).
🌿Young Living’s Calm CBD Roll-on is another fantastic tool to help relax and quiet the mind. Have you tried it yet? Be sure to find and follow Dr. Oliver Wenker MD, DEAA, ABAARM, FAARFM, MBA on his website and social media to learn in depth information on all things CBD.
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t recommend steps to help mitigate stress in a patient’s life. Nearly 20% of adults age 18 or older are on medication💊 for symptoms related to stress. A patient may present with anxiety, depression, or any of the other stress related clues we’ve talked about, and a prescription is written without any further discussion (and often, without comprehensive lab work being ordered to ensure there’s not also an imbalance somewhere in the body causing the symptoms). There will always be a time and a place for medication as a final option, but patients need to be fully aware of the problems that lie with using medication long term as a coping mechanism.
💊Many of the medications used to treat symptoms of stress are highly addictive. Additionally, these medications have the capacity to impact brain function when taken over extended periods of time.
💊According to a study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the most common classes of drugs (SSRI’s) used to treat mild to moderate anxiety and depression was “unable to outperform placebos for moderate symptoms of depression”. So…. there’s that.
💊All of the medications used to mediate stress symptoms have side effect profiles that may well require a 2nd or 3rd medication to help manage the side effects of the initial medication.
💊Very few studies on the effects of a polypharmacy (using multiple medications concurrently) lifestyle exist, yet we know that prescription drugs are the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA (after heart disease and cancer)...... (Don’t let anyone tell you that essential oils and herbs are dangerous!😉).
💊There is no way of measuring serotonin (the primary “happy” neurotransmitter) in the brain of a living person, nor is there a “normal level” of serotonin we should all have to be emotionally healthy. People with high serotonin levels can still be depressed, and people with low serotonin levels can still be happy and joy filled. Indeed, we are largely the masters of our own emotional state.
💊Many medications used to treat symptoms of stress should be used in caution with people who have preexisting extreme mood disorders, diabetes, kidney, liver, or heart disease, or pregnancy (due to risk of miscarriage, congenital heart disease, or persistent pulmonary hypertension of the baby).
We have so many low cost (to free!) tools available to us when it comes to how we choose to deal with stress, and as you’ve hopefully seen, most are very pleasant options with no icky side effects.
Use the two stress surveys📊 you now have on hand to check yourself periodically, and then evaluate your self care / fun quotient. Your future self will thank you!
(PS: if anyone needs a stress relieving kitten, I’ve got 4 fosters looking for a home! )
Chronic Stress as a Clue: Part II
Prior to 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”. The ramifications of chronic stress costs American businesses an estimated $300 billion dollars annually, though that stat is a pretty cold way to look at stress… from a purely financial perspective. Numerous studies show that job stress is the leading cause of stress for American adults. Other triggers include finances, relationships, parenting, and trauma…. Oh, and let’s not forget simply living through 2020/2021.
Unpacking stress as a clue is like peeling back the layers of an onion. What actually happens to a body that is chronically stressed?
Initially, we may feel the effects of adrenaline and cortisol being released. The heart speeds up, digestion slows down, the blood supply shunts blood to major muscle groups, and fight or flight kicks in. In normal situations, the perceived threat eventually leaves and we relax and recover.
In a state of chronic stress, this scenario doesn’t happen the way it should, and some real problematic changes in the body occur.
The brain actually begins to decrease in both size and weight😳. Ultimately this affects both cognition and memory. The basal ganglia and the pre frontal cortex are especially affected by these changes. The basal ganglia is involved in the processing of information related to emotions, motivations, and movement, while the pre frontal cortex is responsible for “executive decision making”..... The ability to differentiate between conflicting thoughts, identifying good from bad, predictions of outcomes, expectations based on actions, and the ability to suppress urges. This area of the brain dictates our personality, goals and values. As you might imagine, over time, chronic stress plays a very real role in brain disorders like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and dystonia.
Unmitigated chronic stress affects the immune system by activating low grade inflammation🔥 throughout the body. It may take years to develop, but strong evidence suggests that low grade inflammation eventually triggers dis-eases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, colitis, IBS, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, lupus, MS, diabetes, cancer, and other autoimmune disorders.
Additionally, this stress affects the production of blood cells needed to effectively fight off illnesses.
Chronic stress also alters the activity of:
🔥The hypothalamus (libido, behavior, emotions, body temperature, weight, and sleep/wake cycle.
🔥The pituitary (which largely controls both the adrenals and thyroid)
🔥The adrenal glands (produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, and how we respond to stress). Even a minimal amount of stress can activate the adrenal glands.
🔥Growth hormones (can be halted during severe stress)
Additionally, chronic stress can lead to malignancies, genetic instability (epigenetics… the role our environment plays in gene expression), and tumor growth by effectively decreasing the activity of the normal systems within the body that keeps aberrant (cancer) cells from growing.
Digestive disorders are also a common physical symptom of chronic stress, including changes in motility, increased intestinal permeability,and inflammation in the form of Crohns, ulcerative colitis, and IBS.
Chronic stress is no joke when it comes to its impact on health, and not a single person is immune to the effects of it. This is why it is incredibly important to have a plan of action to care for yourself and encourage others to do the same.
We are all built incredibly differently, and stress will ultimately expose the unique weakness that is within each one of us. This is why it is so very important that we know and understand our bodies well, so that we can support it in the manner that best serves us.
Sleep😴 is our body’s only true time of repair and recovery. If you are not getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, make that a priority. If quality sleep is not happening, work on sleep hygiene and habits to improve your zzzzzz’s.
👉Stop screen time well before bed and keep electronics out of the bedroom (pineal gland disruption).
👉Get 10-20 minutes of full sunlight during the day.
👉Keep sleeping temperature at less than 70 degrees F.
👉Take an epsom salt bath before bed…. Add in Lavender, Frankincense, Peace and Calming, Cedarwood or Sandalwood to the salts.
👉Consider diffusing with any of the calming oils!
👉Exercise earlier in the day, and consider restorative yoga or meditation before bed.
👉Avoid artificial sweeteners (they can cause insomnia!)
👉Support a healthy night’s sleep with either YL’s Immupro chewable tablets or Sleep Essence capsules.
Next week I will cover some strategies for coping with chronic stress.
Assessing Stress: Part I
Alrighty friends, we are going to tackle a booger bear over the next few weeks. Stress is a stealth burglar of health. It can creep up on you, knock you to your knees and follow up with a sucker punch in the gut before you even knew what hit ya. Nobody is immune to the negative influences of unmitigated chronic stress. Oftentimes, we can get so caught up living with stress, it begins to “feel” normal.
God did not design us to live in eternal “fight or flight”. If we do live this way, eventually a health crisis will occur. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory Survey📊 is a widely recognized health coaching tool used to help assess the probability of future “health breakdowns” if stress remains unaddressed.
Link to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Survey: https://drive.google.com/.../1QKMkW.../view...
Take some time to honestly assess yourself.
👍150 points or less: a relatively low susceptibility to stress induced health problems
150-300 points: (if nothing changes) a 50% chance of a stress induced health concern in the next 2 years.
300: an 80% risk of a stress induced health concern within the next 2 years.
Frankly, assessing your stress load (and how well you mediate it) just might be the most important clue🔎 of this series.
I’ll be unpacking additional clues and ways to mediate chronic stress next week. Thankfully, stress management is not an expensive undertaking... there is so much you can do affordably or for free. The hardest part is honestly acknowledging the damage stress may be causing behind the scenes. What you can’t see is still causing harm. Some studies suggest chronic stress is as hard on the heart as a five🚬🚬🚬🚬🚬 cigarette a day habit. Yikes!😳
See ya’ll next week. I’m headed off to bulk order Stress Away!😉
Eye Clues Part V: Iris Clues Continued
*Iris clues. Are you ready to dive a little deeper down this fascinating rabbit warren of information? If you are just now joining in this portion of detective work, I’d highly suggest a quick look at last week’s post before proceeding, so you don't get lost:
🔎Noting the changes within your eyes may be likened to the notification lights on the dashboard of your car. If you know something is wrong early enough, you often have time to correct that which is setting the signal off. The iris manifests clues marking changes within the body that warrant correction.
Depending upon how the clues manifest themselves, they may indicate acute, recovery, chronic, or degenerative situations within the body.
Acute - active inflammation. During this time, the body is using its resources rapidly in an attempt to gain control of the inflammation. The iris “warning signs” will look like white ribbons in the areas corresponding to the inflamed tissue. Other corroborative clues may include noticeable mucus production somewhere in the body, or visibly inflamed or swollen tissue. Detoxification is occurring, but often it’s not fast enough. Consider giving your body all the nutrition support you can. Add in Young Living's Master Formula and NingXia Red for added support.
Sub-Acute- Once the initial rapid inflammation has tapered off, the white ribbon like areas start to become darker. This is suggestive that nutrients have been depleted and need to be restored. If a sub-acute state is left unattended and the body continues to be exposed to either nutritional or physical stress, a chronic state of inflammation may result. Don't stop supporting your body!
Chronic- In this state, toxins and waste are not eliminated properly, cellular activity has slowed down considerably, nerve impulses are impaired, and conditions become ripe for chronic illness or dis-ease to set in. The iris will manifest the chronic condition state with the appearance of various sized “black holes” in the netting of the iris fibers. This will ultimately lead to further degeneration if positive changes are not made to a person’s lifestyle in an effort to reverse the course of dis-ease or illness. The black holes may get larger and multiply as more body systems are affected.
*About ⅓ of the way away from the iris lies the autonomic nerve wreath. The autonomic nervous system is broken down into two subsystems. The parasympathetic nervous system is for basic housekeeping within the body and it controls the body while we rest. The sympathetic system is also commonly referred to as our “fight or flight” response. The nerve wreath is not always uniform in shape.. The more this wreath shape deviates from a standard roundish type shape, the more suggestive it is of a system off balance. Additionally, the color of the autonomic nerve wreath should match the color of the rest of the iris. Any increase, decrease, or change in color in this area suggests disharmony within the body. To recap, color and shape of the wreath are important clues🔎!
What about colored spots within the iris? These are called psora, and are typically considered to be an indicator of toxin loads within the body. If you watch your eyes closely, you may notice that these colored spots often change locations over time. This suggests the toxin load (including drug deposits) has moved to another portion of the body. Sometimes these spots show up in different colors: red yellow, and orange are not uncommon. They are most often seen in Zones 1 thru 3 in the irises.
"Scurf rim"🔎 is another clue on the outermost zone (7) of the iris. Is the area darkened? This is suggestive that the skin (remember, it’s an organ!) is not able to function effectively in the detoxification process, and toxins and metabolic waste are having a hard time being released from the body. An accompanying clue🔎 might include not sweating easily.
At the very top of Zone 7 (roughly 10pm -2am on a clock) look for an arc that often has fuzzy edges with a whitish tint. Though this used to be a mark of old age👵, it is becoming more and more common in younger people👩👨. Presence of this arc is suggestive of poor oxygenation and blood perfusion in the brain.
Now look for a solid white ring🔎 on the periphery of Zone 7. This suggests a chemical imbalance of some sort in the body. Western medicine also recognizes this ring as an indicator of probable excessive cholesterol and triglycerides in the body. Not surprisingly, further digging (with lab work and testing) often reveal poor calcium metabolism which contributes to plaque in the arteries (arteriosclerosis) and joints (arthritis), and subsequent higher blood pressure.
Zone 6 sometimes houses cloudlike spots 🔎resembling a string of pearls. If the spots are very white, these spots suggest acute inflammation. Yellowed or brownish pearls suggest that the inflammation has moved to a chronic state. Check yourself for other clues. Do you also produce a great deal of mucus elsewhere in your body or have swollen lymph glands? Dry brushing, lymphatic massage, and regular exercise are all excellent ways to mediate impaired lymphatic function.
Nerve rings🔎 may appear anywhere in the pupil.. They look much like growth rings found in a cross section of a tree. These rings suggest long term stress in one or more parts of the body, and are most often seen in chronically stressed individuals. Shouldn’t we all be huffing our Stress Away whenever the moment requires it? We have so many blessed tools at our fingertips to help support our bodies during times of stress. These nerve rings are similar to an SOS smoke signal. Pay attention to them!
Check your eyes for dark lines 🔎radiating out from the pupil. These lines (called radii solaris) suggest a slower moving digestive tract and a subsequent toxin load. If you are not offloading the poo my friends, the toxin load will be there. ! This clue might also be suggestive of a parasite load.
We’ve just barely skimmed the surface of the clues🔎 the eyes can give us, but if you’re ultra curious, keep digging on your own. Dr Bernard Jensen is considered to be the modern “Father of Iridology”, and his work is an excellent place to start!
I’ll leave you with this cool factoid…. Did you know that you may be able to change the color of your eyes? Brown discolorations in blue/green eyes are suggestive of digestive system dysfunction, a gallbladder weakness, or liver dysfunction. Cleaning up these problems with clean eating habits and restoring health to the digestive system just might make your brownish eyes blue! The next time you think someone might be full of it💩, check their eyes.... You just might be right!😉
Hey there....thanks for stopping by! This is me (Liz James)... an eclectic mixture of holistic (and organic) farmgirl meets pharmacist. It's a synergy that works well as I speak truths and dissect fact from fiction. If you're looking for healthier living options, you've come to the right place!