Build Resilient Immunity in 2023
Last month, Dr. Ryan and I had the pleasure of attending a seminar taught by Dr. Dan Murphy, DC. Dr. Murphy is one of the foremost experts on nutrition and functional medicine in the chiropractic profession. He lectured on topics such as brain injury and concussion, nutrition for cognitive and immune system health, the beneficial effects of red laser therapy, and the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease using nutrition and lifestyle modification.
Perhaps the most impactful topic for me was Dr. Murphy’s lecture on ‘host immunity.’ Host immunity refers to the strength, resiliency, and adaptability of a given patient’s immune system. The better the patient’s immune system, the more effectively that patient can combat all forms of disease and illness affecting the body. Dietary and lifestyle modifications such as exercise, proper sun exposure, and evolutionarily consistent eating are examples of techniques patients can use to improve their host immunity.
In my opinion, mainstream media does not focus enough on host immunity. Instead, we are told strategies such as staying up to date with the latest vaccine or booster, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, wearing masks in public, or taking medication for any physical or mental stress your body is subjected to. When did we become so weak we had to start relying on all of these external, synthetic inputs to keep us healthy? Since when did being around other people endanger us, rather than strengthen our immune system by presenting our immune system with a wide array of pathogens and creating a more robust immune system? I recall when ‘chicken-pox’ parties were the norm. Each individual has the opportunity to have an extremely strong, smart, and resilient immune system.
Dr. Murphy suggests a number of vital supplements for optimizing host immunity. First and foremost are omega-3’s and vitamin D. Aim for around three grams of omega 3’s each day. For many, this means supplementing with a high quality fish oil supplement. Omega 3’s help with the inflammatory balance in the body and foster an environment where immune cells can combat external infections and diseases. Next up is vitamin D. Your goal should be around 5,000 mg per day. Getting vitamin D from natural sunlight is the best option, however, during the winter months supplementation is often necessary. Nearly every cell in the body, including our immune cells, possess a vitamin D receptor and is positively activated when this hormone is at proper levels. Vitamin D is also great for bone mineral density, memory, and mental health.
No lecture on immune health is complete without mentioning vitamin C. Did you know the benefits of vitamin C were first discovered among sailors with scurvy? Scurvy is a connective tissue disease causing gum disease, hair loss, excessive bleeding, and poor healing from wounds and infection. When the sailors were given oranges, which are high in vitamin C, the symptoms of scurvy all but disappeared. Alas, the immune benefits of vitamin C were front page news! Vitamin C has a host of health benefits including reducing the duration of the common cold, helping with the synthesis of collagen so you can have healthy skin, hair, and nails, and acts as a strong antioxidant with some research suggesting anti-cancer and anti-Alzheimer’s benefits. Vitamin C is found in the highest quantity in citrus fruits. If supplementation is deemed necessary, liposomal vitamin C is your best option. Liposomal vitamin C is encapsulated with a fat or lipid coating improving absorption and decreasing gastrointestinal distress.
The final three nutrients are magnesium, zinc, and vitamin A. Magnesium is a mineral acting as a cofactor in over 600 reactions in the body, and is important for normal immune function, energy production, blood pressure regulation, and blood sugar control. Magnesium deficiency is common in developed countries. Aim for about 300-600 mg per day of magnesium from a whole food source or supplement. If supplementing, I recommend taking either magnesium threonate or magnesium glycinate, since these have the best absorption in the body and brain. Zinc is an essential mineral associated with proper wound healing and immune system function. It is an antioxidant and important for maintaining proper testosterone levels. I recommend 15-30 mg of zinc daily. Vitamin A refers to a group of chemical compounds composed of retinol and its metabolites. Vitamin A is essential for optimal immune function, and is also important for our skin and vision. Take around 5,000 IU of vitamin A each day.
Coming up soon, I will take a deep dive into the importance of exercise and sleep for healthy host immunity. At the surface level, a balanced combination of aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (strength) training will help develop a robust individual with a strong immune system. Consistent, quality sleep each night is essential for immune health because melatonin benefits the immune system by decreasing inflammatory reactions in the body, notably the ‘cytokine storm’ seen with covid-19. Supplementing with 3-10 mg of melatonin while symptomatic may provide some benefit, however, I do not recommend long term supplementation of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body, and long term supplementation may decrease our body’s capacity for producing the hormone on its own.
Make 2023 the year for improving host immunity. With covid-19 in the rearview mirror, prepare yourself now for any future health crises that may affect our society. If we all commit to focusing more on healthy host immunity, the need for societal wide shutdowns and vaccination may not be necessary!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here:
Anemia may be the root cause of many chronic conditions such as headache, migraine, mood disorders, and fatigue. Getting assessed by a functional medicine provider trained in the diagnosis and treatment of anemia may be the missing link towards optimal health. In this blog post I will be focusing on iron deficiency anemia as it is the most prevalent in our clinical practice. While both males and females can be affected by anemia, females are affected at a much higher rate.
What is anemia?
Anemia is defined as a low red blood cell count (RBC), low hemoglobin (Hgb), and a low hematocrit (red blood cell concentration in whole blood). Iron deficiency anemia, or IDA, is defined as a microcytic, hypochromic anemia, where the red blood cells are small in size and pale in color due to poor hemoglobin concentration. These red blood cells do not carry oxygen as efficiently, and your tissues can become hypoxic or starved of oxygen. As a result, your heart pumps faster to try and bring more oxygen to the tissues. Additionally, your brain gets less oxygen which causes headaches and mental fatigue. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, cold hands/feet, rapid or irregular heart rate, headaches, dizziness and lightheadedness, pale or yellow skin, and shortness of breath. When iron status is addressed, we have seen issues like anxiety, depression, and insomnia improve drastically in our patients.
There are many types of anemias that can affect the body. For instance, Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and Vitamin B9 (folate) deficiencies can cause anemia. These anemias will present as a ‘macrocytic’ anemia where red blood count is low and the red blood cells actually become larger as part of the deficiency. When assessing your bloodwork for anemia and any other condition, make sure to consult with a physician trained in functional medicine.
How do you measure it?
To assess iron status, we order a simple test called plasma ferritin. Ferritin is your body’s storage form of iron and is in largest concentration in your liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Small amounts of ferritin circulate in your bloodstream in direct proportion to the amount of ferritin stored in tissues. Normal values for ferritin vary with age and sex, and good laboratories will provide age and sex specific reference ranges. The lab reference ranges for ferritin are typically quite large, e.g. 16-154 ng/ mL for a 40 year old female, meaning stricter ‘functional ranges’ need to be used for clinical decision making. Using functional medicine standards, we prefer to see ferritin levels above 100 ng/ mL. It’s important to note too much iron is also a problem, and can cause conditions such as iron overload or hemochromatosis.
What to do:
If your ferritin levels are low, look to optimize digestion of iron by taking a hydrochloric acid supplement which will help increase the acidity of your gut. Having an appropriately low stomach pH (more acidic) is necessary for the proper digestion of iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and magnesium among other vital nutrients. For more information, refer to my blog post on stomach acid and digestion here.
To improve iron status it’s important to consume foods high in iron. Animal protein is one of the best ways to get iron. Red meat, organ meats, shellfish, and turkey are excellent ways to increase iron status when paired with optimal digestion. Cooking daily with a cast iron skillet is another easy way to improve iron status. One of my favorite iron and vitamin B12 rich meals is a grass fed ribeye steak cooked with butter or coconut oil in a cast iron skillet. Another option is to use an ‘iron fish’ which can be dropped into warm beverages and will safely release iron into your drink. Consider using an iron fish in hot water with honey and apple cider vinegar. The apple cider vinegar will help increase gut acidity and improve iron absorption.
If you can relate to the symptoms described above, make sure to get a ferritin and complete blood count (CBC) test as soon as possible from your doctor. It’s always better to ‘test rather than guess’ because too much iron can also be problematic. The tests are simple and inexpensive so don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to order it for you. Having healthy red blood cells is essential for optimal health, and a CBC test looking at iron levels will help determine what steps you may need to take to improve your overall well-being.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
For years it was thought the cause of indigestion, stomach ulcers, and gastric reflux was the presence of too much acid in the stomach. However, research shows the cause of these issues is actually too little stomach acid. Stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCL), is necessary to ensure the proper digestion of your food, protect you from pathogenic bacteria, and prevent the backflow of food into your esophagus and throat. If our stomach is not acidic enough, our gastro-esophageal sphincter will not close and we can get back flow of acid into our throat (esophagus) which causes heartburn (gerd). Without adequate stomach acid, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B12, are not fully absorbed into the body. For example, if you are supplementing with calcium and magnesium in an effort to improve the strength of your bones but do not have enough stomach acid, the supplements will not be effective.
To determine whether you have adequate stomach acid, your doctor will have you perform one of the two tests below:
- First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, mix ¼ tsp baking soda in 4 to 6 ounces of cold water. Drink the baking soda solution and set a timer for 5 minutes. Record and note the time anything happens over the next five minutes and bring the results to your doctor at your next visit.
- The betaine HCL test requires some trial and error, but you will finish the test with an exact dosage for how much HCL you need supplementally. For this test you will start by taking one betaine HCL pill right before eat. If you do not feel a “burn”, you will then take two pills right before your next meal. You will continue to up the pills one by one for each meal until you feel a burning sensation. Once you feel a burn, you will take one pill off and this will become your dosage. Once you begin to feel a burn at this dosage, you will again drop by one pill. This is not a long-term solution for lack of stomach acid, but it is a good way to kick start your digestion. It will also aid in vitamin and mineral adsorption so you have the energy and motivation to improve stomach acid naturally through weight-bearing exercise, improved posture, and stress management strategies. When dosing the supplement if you have an uncomfortable burn you can drink some baking soda in water to neutralize the acid. Make sure to lower the dosage at the next meal.
If your doctor determines your stomach acid levels are too low, here are some natural ways to boost HCL production in the stomach and ensure healthier digestion:
- Consume apple cider vinegar. Put ½ tablespoon up to 2 tablespoons in 8-12 ounces of water. Drink this solution first thing in the morning and before bed. If apple cider vinegar makes you nauseous, start with ½ tbsp and slowly build up to 2 tbsp.
- If you don’t struggle with heartburn add fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice to your water and drink throughout the day.
- Eat grapefruit and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, pickled foods (pickled beets, etc) to help stimulate HCL production. Eat pineapple and papaya to increase digestive enzymes.
- Use vinegars (red wine, white wine, balsamic, etc.) as a salad dressing or marinade.
- Drink celery or cabbage juice.
- Chew on celery, pumpkin seeds, or beeswax throughout the day. In addition to stimulating HCL production, this will also help heal your stomach lining, and boost metabolism for fat loss.
- Mindfully chew your food. The physical act of chewing will stimulate HCL production and help digest your food via adequate release of salivary enzymes triggered in the mouth by chewing.
- Limit fluid intake with meals as it dilutes your stomach acid. Drink your fluids in between meals.
- ONE glass of wine with a meal can help add some acidity to your stomach to aid with digestion
- To improve digestion after meals limit sitting and laying down, go for light walks, perform light chores, stand, etc.
Finally, make sure you are in a calm and relaxed state before eating your meals. When you are in a stressed state (sympathetics), your body does not produce stomach acid or digest your food. Take 4 deep, slow breaths prior to eating, reflecting on how lucky you are to have an abundance of healthy food to fuel your body. Gratitude is excellent for your brain and digestive health!
If you have sensitivities or allergies to any of the suggested foods on the list please continue to avoid them and consume the ones you can tolerate. Food allergies and sensitivities start because of increased sympathetics and therefore decreased stomach acid. As we repair your gut, increase stomach acid, and decrease sympathetics you will begin to tolerate foods you couldn’t tolerate prior.
If you struggle with heartburn (GERD) it is best to avoid citrus, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, peppermint, and eating after 7pm as we repair your stomach. These foods and activities can cause relaxation of your stomach valve which can cause regurgitation of acid into your throat/chest.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual Colorado Chiropractic Association (CCA) Conference. Each year chiropractors from across Colorado gather to enjoy a weekend of educational speakers, networking, and discussion of the future of the chiropractic profession in Colorado. The CCA conference offers a unique opportunity for doctors of differing experience levels, techniques, and chiropractic universities to connect with a common goal – the advancement of the chiropractic profession in Colorado.
Since there has been a scarcity of in-person continuing education opportunities over the last two years, the phenomenal speakers at this year’s conference were a breath of fresh air for the doctors in attendance. As a clinician, it’s important to regularly learn new treatments and methodologies, staying up to date with the most current research available. I truly love continuing education courses because you come back to work with a renewed sense of vigor, and are eager to try new treatments and methods to help your patients. There were many fantastic speakers at this year’s conference, including Dr. Mike Hall, DC, Dr. Alicia Yochum DC, and Del Bigtree.
Dr. Hall spoke extensively on the importance of maintaining a healthy cervical lordosis. The cervical lordosis is the natural C-shaped curvature your neck should display. Many patients present with a flattened cervical spine which may be due to prior motor vehicle accident (MVA), prolonged poor posture, or genetic predisposition. Dr. Hall spoke about how the cervical lordosis acts as an indicator of the orthopedic health and fitness of the rest of the body. Patients with good strength in their hips and legs, shoulders and arms, often present with a healthy cervical lordosis. Conversely, individuals with poor strength in the lower body and who sit at a computer all day, often have a flattening of the cervical curve. Patients dealing with chronic stress and anxiety often present with head tilts and a poor cervical curve, indicating that the emotional and physical health of the brain is represented in the health of the cervical curve. The cervical curve is a window into the neurologic and orthopedic health of the entire body.
Dr. Alicia Yochum, daughter of Terry Yochum, who is co-author of Essentials of Skeletal Radiology, a textbook universally used in chiropractic and medical radiology programs, spoke about clinical radiology cases. For each case, she asked the audience to identify the pathology and then decide the appropriate course of action in terms of treatment or external referral. Dr. Yochum also spoke extensively on the benefits of musculoskeletal (MSK) ultrasound which is a cost effective diagnostic tool for soft tissue injuries. She provided an excellent review of how to distinguish T1, T2, and STIR sequence MRI’s. As a talented presenter, she made her radiology course engaging for all attendees.
To round out an exceptional group of speakers was Del Bigtree, former Hollywood producer of ABC’s The Doctors, who now uses his production skills to educate the public on the danger of vaccines, medical misinformation, and the pursuit of health care freedom in the US. His highly acclaimed internet show, The Highwire, is watched by millions of Americans who seek unbiased information when it comes to health related topics in the US. Bigtree spoke at length on the dangers of global vaccination for Sars-cov-2, which has a 0.26% mortality rate worldwide. Noting Dr. Robert Malone, inventor of mRNA vaccines, has even publicly spoken out about the dangers of global vaccination and has urged the medical community to stop. The mRNA vaccines use a new form of technology where vaccine adjuvants can turn off the ‘toll like receptors (TLR’s) of the patient’s innate immune system. Turning off the TLR’s allow the mRNA gene therapy to quickly bypass the innate immune system and enter the patient’s cells with the goal of stimulating an immune response and subsequent antibody formation. The overlooked issue is TLR’s are an extremely vital component of our immune system and shutting them off may have deleterious effects. Bigtree noted many oncologists have contacted him saying they’ve never seen new cancer rates this high in the US, and one plausible explanation is widespread vaccination with the mRNA gene therapies. Bigtree is a prominent advocate for the health freedoms of all Americans and I am grateful to have heard him speak on such a divisive and important topic.
The 2021 conference was my second CCA conference and I left feeling refreshed, excited about chiropractic, and with a wealth of new information to share with my patients. Whether you’ve been in practice for 3 years or 30, chiropractors share a kinship with each other and treat each other with respect. I enjoyed getting to know other Colorado chiropractors such as Dr. Roman, Dr. Pearson, Dr. Starling, and Dr. Birdsall just to name a few. My deepest thanks goes out to the staff of the CCA and all those involved in orchestrating a truly fantastic weekend.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
When I am performing needling on a patient for the first time, I am regularly asked what the difference is between acupuncture and dry needling. For many, these two treatments are one and the same, but despite their similarities, they also have their differences.
Acupuncture is one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the others being herbal medicine, nutrition, movement (Qi gong), and manual therapy (cupping, tui na massage, and gua sha). Acupuncture involves inserting needles at specific points and utilizes the ‘meridian theory’ as its basis for treatment. On an acupuncture chart you will notice lines, or meridians, drawn throughout a person’s body. A meridian may travel from the hand to the head, the foot to the abdomen, or from one end of the spine to the other. Meridians connect different parts of the body to each other. Each meridian is linked to an internal organ, such as your liver, lung, or heart. There are 12 primary meridians, one for each organ, along with 2 ‘extraordinary’ meridians, which are commonly used in practice.
Based on the theories of TCM there is an energy force called ‘Qi’ flowing along the meridians. Qi is responsible for keeping our tissues healthy, youthful, and disease free. The smooth flow of Qi along the meridians is imperative for optimal health. When Qi does not flow well or is stagnate, pain, injury, and disease can arise. When a needle is used to stimulate an acupuncture point in clinical practice, the goal is to restore the flow of Qi along the meridian. When Qi is flowing freely throughout your body, you will feel vital and energized.
The origins of dry needling and trigger point theory are closely related. Trigger point theory refers to the idea that pressing on a tight, tender band of muscle tissue will often refer pain to a different area of the body. For instance, stimulating a trigger point in the upper trapezius muscle of the shoulder may cause pain in the temporal region of the skull. Researchers began mapping these ‘referral patterns,’ which appeared to be consistent from person to person. Janet Travell and David Simons are arguably the two most influential contributors to trigger point theory and their pain referral charts are still widely used today. Early researchers of the trigger point theory used needle injections of local anesthetics to map the associated referral areas for each trigger point. Interestingly, the treatment benefit would often outlast the anesthetics known treatment time. It was at this point researchers realized it was actually the needle insertion into the trigger point, rather than the anesthetic itself, providing the therapeutic effect. Dry needling is referred to as ‘dry’ because there is no anesthetic or saline injection used during the needling treatment.
Similarities Between the Two
In general, the local effect of the needle is the same whether you are performing acupuncture or dry needling. At a microscopic level, the needle is causing a local micro-trauma or small injury to the tissues, which stimulates the body to send blood and healing products to the area. Needling is a viable treatment for areas receiving poor blood flow, such as tendons, ligaments, and the periosteum of bone. By stimulating blood flow to these traditionally ‘avascular’ or low blood flow areas, the patient’s recovery from tendinous and ligamentous injuries can be accelerated.
In my practice I use a combination of acupuncture and dry needling. I often do dry needling at the site of pain, and then utilize local, adjacent, and distant Chinese medicine acupuncture points to help move Qi and blood throughout the body. As a chiropractor, I utilize many spinal points to help with painful conditions of the neck and low back. Combining a spinal chiropractic adjustment with needling in the same area is extremely helpful for patients. Acupuncture and chiropractic care complement each other wonderfully. Chiropractic care helps the neurologic and orthopedic systems function better, while acupuncture helps with systemic health by improving the flow of Qi and blood throughout the body. Combining a Western orthopedic approach with an Eastern Chinese medicine approach is an excellent way to help patients achieve optimal health.
Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm DC. Check out his bio here.
People are often told in order to meet their weight loss goals they need to eat clean, work out consistently, and limit the number of calories in versus calories out. Unfortunately, despite working these modifications into their daily lives, they still find their weight loss goals unachieved. I’ve worked with numerous frustrated patients who work out strenuously 5 to 6 times per week, yet are not seeing the results they would like. The overlooked missing piece to weight loss is hormonal imbalances. These imbalances may be preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals.
The two hormones I will focus on for weight loss are cortisol and melatonin. Please note, hormones such as grehlin and leptin (hunger and satiety), testosterone and estrogen (male and female sex hormones), and insulin and glucagon (energy storage and utilization hormones), are all intimately involved in weight loss, but cortisol and melatonin are a simple and effective place to start.
Cortisol often gets a bad rep as our body’s ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is a primary hormone involved in the body’s stress response, however, cortisol is more appropriately defined as our ‘awake’ hormone. Cortisol is released in the morning and helps us get out of bed, use the bathroom, and provide us with the stimulation to start our day. In a normal functioning endocrine system, cortisol release is high in the morning and then tapers off in the afternoon to allow our sleep hormone, melatonin, the chance to take over.
Melatonin is our ‘sleep’ or ‘darkness’ hormone and it’s release is inhibited with exposure to light. Melatonin helps us wind down in the evening and prepare the mind and body for sleep. Melatonin and cortisol work in opposition to each other. Having one with high levels means the other is not fully expressed. With this in mind, if cortisol levels are abnormally elevated in the afternoon and evening, the normal release of melatonin around lunch time is inhibited, therefore impairing our ability to fall asleep. The entire system is regulated by our circadian rhythm which responds directly to light exposure on the eyeballs. Bright light in the morning stimulates cortisol release, the dimming of light in the evening stimulates melatonin release.
Cortisol becomes a stress hormone when levels remain elevated in the afternoon and early evening. When cortisol release is improperly timed and is still high in the afternoon, we feel anxious and crave sugary, fried, and fatty foods. If our ‘awake’ hormone is elevated in the evening when we are trying to prepare for sleep, we will feel uneasy and distressed. The combination of excess calories from sugary, fried, fatty foods and poor sleep due to excess cortisol and deficient melatonin is what leads to weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Even if you eat a clean diet excess cortisol in the evening will create a stress response causing systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation and insulin resistance each make weight loss more difficult to achieve and maintain.
The best way to normalize your cortisol/melatonin system is with direct sunlight exposure within 30 minutes of waking. Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist from Stanford, was recently interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast where he suggests everyone get 2-10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure on their eyes first thing in the morning. By stimulating photoreceptors in the eyes, cortisol release is amplified. Going outside for an additional 2-10 minutes in the evening, when the sun is at a low angle, will help to stimulate melatonin and prepare us for sleep. Start your weight loss journey by normalizing your circadian rhythm using direct sunlight exposure in the morning and again in the evening.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
The standard lipid panel consists of four different numbers – total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. LDL and HDL refer to ‘low density lipoprotein’ and ‘high density lipoprotein’ respectively. LDL and HDL are the carrier proteins for cholesterol in the body and help to make sure the fat from our diets ends up in the cells needing the energy. Triglycerides are fat molecules circulating in the bloodstream. When triglycerides in the bloodstream are abnormally elevated due to poor diet, obesity, or type 2 diabetes, there is more deposition of fat in the tissues leading to weight gain. Total cholesterol is the sum of LDL, HDL and 20% of your triglyceride level. Looking at the values of these different numbers can give valuable clues into heart disease risk and overall metabolic health.
When assessing a lipid panel, I like to use the numbers offered by functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Catherine Shanahan, M.D. in her excellent book, Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods. She suggests the following optimal lab values for the standard lipid panel:
-Triglycerides less than 150.
-HDL greater than 45 in men and greater than 50 in women.
-LDL: HDL ratio less than 3 to 1.
A high total cholesterol is not concerning if the ratio of LDL to HDL is maintained below 3. Likewise, a high LDL number does not necessarily indicate an increased risk of heart disease if the ratio is maintained. It’s important to remember the gold standard test to determine the health of your lipid cycle is the LDL particle size count. The test assesses for damage to LDL particles – a damaged LDL particle is a smaller one. Damaged LDL particles are more likely to cause inflammatory reactions in the arterial walls leading to plaque formation and atherosclerosis. The LDL particle size count is rarely ordered by physicians due to the cost, however it remains the best test for assessing heart disease risk.
Many physicians put their patients on a class of drugs called a statin which decreases the body’s natural production of cholesterol, especially the type of cholesterol bound to LDL particles. The problem with this is cholesterol is an important building block for many cells in the body including our steroid hormones which include testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol among others. Additionally, the brain contains the highest amount of cholesterol on the body, meaning lowering cholesterol with a statin drug may impair brain function and induce cognitive decline. Statins come with a host of side effects including muscle aches and pains, altered liver enzymes due to liver damage, and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is why it is so important to match your most recent lipid panel up with the numbers I give above before agreeing to start taking a statin drug. In future posts I will explain some of the diet and lifestyle factors you can adopt to help normalize the levels in your lipid panel without having to take a statin drug.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Sleep is the most important cornerstone for optimal health. Without the foundation of a healthy night of sleep, all other health interventions, such as nutrition and exercise, will fall short. Our memory, cognition, and ability to learn new tasks all depend on healthy sleep. ‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the quality and quantity of sleep you are getting each night. I recommend my patients get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, depending on activity level, as well as season. During the winter months, you should opt for close to 9 hours of sleep. During the summer months, 7 hours of sleep may be adequate since days are longer and the nights are shorter. Additionally, more sleep is needed the more active you are as it is important to allow your body adequate time to recover after difficult workouts. When helping patients improve their sleep hygiene, there are three interventions I use most frequently, outlined below.
First morning sunshine
Going outside first thing in the morning with as much skin exposed as possible stimulates the body’s release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is known as our ‘awake hormone’ and gives us the energy to start our day. Cortisol naturally starts to decline around lunch time, and by the evening levels should be low as it starts to get dark and we prepare for sleep. Cortisol becomes problematic when levels remain high in the afternoon. When cortisol levels remain elevated, it becomes a stress hormone and causes us to crave sugary and fatty foods. Additionally, high levels of our ‘awake hormone’ in the evening work against us falling and staying asleep. The best way to ensure cortisol levels are low in the evening is to secrete as much as possible in the morning. Sunshine stimulates cortisol secretion, meaning it is optimal to get plenty of sunshine in the first half of the day.
Turn off electronics at least 90 minutes before bed
Blue light exposure tricks your brain into thinking it is still light outside, decreasing the release of your sleep hormone, melatonin. I recommend turning off all electronics 90 minutes before bedtime. Not only does blue light manipulate our brain into thinking it’s light outside, but often the things we are looking at on our screens, such as social media feeds or work emails, stimulate our brain in a way making sleep difficult. Scrolling through your social media feed causes a release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which plays a role in the brain’s reward system. When dopamine is released, the brain is stimulated and there are feelings of pleasure. While satisfying at the moment, excessive release of dopamine prior to sleeping will make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Therefore, put those phones away before bed time!
Read fiction before bed
Reading before bed is one of the best ways to prepare our brains for sleep. Giving the brain a singular point of focus, such as a captivating fictional story, will allow you to stop thinking about the stresses of work and life and prepare your brain for sleep. With this in mind, reading materials related to work or checking emails will continue to stimulate our minds and keep us thinking about the day. Consequently, I recommend reading fiction. It is a better way to take your mind away from the pressures of the day. If you are a fan of historical fiction like myself, check out Ken Follet’s new novel, Pillars of the Earth.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Goal setting has been touted as the most effective way to achieve success in life. We’ve been told to write them down, stick them to our refrigerator door and even to write them on our bathroom mirror. You’ve heard that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented. I even wrote a blog post on effective goal setting. Recently, I’ve moved away from goal setting with both myself and my patients, focusing instead on daily habit formation and the implementation of routines that set you up for success now and in the future. The inspiration for this change came after listening to the Atomic Habits audiobook by James Clear. Clear argues that goals are easily procrastinated upon, and can often be too daunting to even get started in the right direction. By focusing on daily habits and routines, you will improve yourself each day, setting yourself up to achieve success and ultimately to conquer even the loftiest of goals.
The problem with goal setting
One of the main problems I see with goal setting is that time oriented goals are susceptible to procrastination. If my goal is to lose 20 lbs. by the end of the year, it’s very easy to let myself wait until 6 or even 3 months are left in the year to start working towards the goal. Why start now when I have an entire year to accomplish my goal? A goal that is set out over a year may lose steam after a couple of months, which is what I commonly see with patients looking to make health changes at the beginning of the New Year. Everyone knows that you will see more people out walking in your neighborhood or exercising at the gym in January, February and March only for it to taper off as the year progresses. Rather than setting a time oriented goal, instead pick daily habits that will incrementally help you achieve whatever you envision for yourself.
Define your ideal self
Before completely throwing away your list of goals, make sure you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want for yourself. Envision your ideal job, body composition, and skill set. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Where do you want to be financially? How do you define your ideal self? Once you’ve established these parameters, you are better suited to implementing daily habits that align with this vision. If you envision yourself as having a fit and healthy body, implementing a daily habit that helps you save money or be more organized doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your vision. Instead, for weight loss, pick habits such as a consistent gym routine, a healthy breakfast at the same time each morning, or reading a book before bed to help promote optimal sleep and recovery.
Do this instead
As stated previously, the alternative to goal setting is the implementation of daily habits and routines. Habit formation is beneficial because it focuses on daily growth. If we aim to grow and improve ourselves little by little each day, the culmination of consistent work will be incredible in the long term. We may not notice the improvements on a day to day, micro level, however, if we step back after a year and look at the macro improvement the results are substantial. True growth and change does not come with drastic lifestyle changes such as an extreme 10 day fast or juice cleanse but rather with small steps each day in the right direction.
Next, I show you how to reframe your goals into daily habit formation.
Goal #1: ‘I want to lose 20 lbs. before summer’
Habit: I will work to implement a habit where I do 3 sets x 15 push-ups in the morning followed by drinking a 16 ounce glass of water.
Habit: Weather permitting, I will go outside in the morning for a 10 minute walk in the sunshine before work.
(First morning exercise and sunshine stimulates cortisol release and helps to regulate our circadian rhythm. Sufficient cortisol release in the AM will decrease cravings for fried and sugary foods in the evening which occurs if cortisol levels remain high.)
Habit: I will place a pan, plate, and eating utensils out in my kitchen before I go to bed each night. Already having the pan on the stove increases the likelihood that I will cook a homemade breakfast and adopt a more consistent eating schedule that includes breakfast each day.
Goal #2: ‘I want to increase my sales at work by 15% this year’
Habit: I will wake up at the same time every day to ensure a consistent sleep schedule and to increase my productivity at work.
Habit: I will call 2 potential new clients each day prior to leaving for lunch.
Habit: I will send a thank you card to 2 existing clients each week thanking them for their business.
For work related goals, consider setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a binder or whiteboard to track progress of tasks to be completed. Make these tasks part of your habits at work and you will see your productivity increase.
Goal #3: ‘I want to improve my relationship with my parents’
Habit: Each morning I will practice gratitude by writing down 3 things in my life that I am grateful as part of a journaling routine.
Habit: I will call one of my parents every Friday after work to check in.
Goal #4: ‘I want to be more organized’
Habit: Each morning I will make my bed as the first task to be completed in my day. Making your bed each morning sets yourself up for success throughout the rest of your day and helps you to establish a task completion mindset.
Habit: Each morning when my coffee is brewing I will take 5 minutes to tidy up my living room so I leave for work with an organized living space.
Goal #5: ‘I want to get better sleep this year’
Habit: I will develop a habit where I turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed time. Blue light exposure stimulates cortisol release at the wrong time of day and will make falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Habit: Prior to going to bed I will write out tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list in a journal that I keep by my night stand. Getting tomorrow’s tasks written down will give you peace of mind and allow your brain to turn off before going to sleep.
Habit: I will read for 20 minutes before bed. Reading, especially fiction, gives your brain a singular point of focus, and helps you get your mind off of the day’s stresses.
I hope this article gives you valuable insight into daily habit formation and the power it can have. I finish with a quote from W.H. Auden – ‘Routine, in an intelligent man (or woman), is a sign of ambition.’
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
My Least Favorite Exercise Part 2 – The Quadricep Knee Extension
Continuing with the theme of our last blog post My Least Favorite Exercise – The Clamshell, I’d like to highlight another popular exercise that should be avoided at all costs. This week, my least favorite exercise is the quadricep knee extension exercise. I regularly see people at the gym using the quadricep knee extension machine, and I truly worry about their orthopedic health when I’m watching them. To perform the machine based knee extension exercise, people sit in a chair with a pad on their shins. Next, they kick their legs straight against the resistance of the machine, contracting the quadriceps muscle. People perform this exercise because they want to improve the strength and size of their quadriceps muscle – some may even think it’s healthy for their knees; however, the biomechanical consequences of this exercise can be highly detrimental to the health of your knees.
Open vs. closed chain exercises
The machine based knee extension is a single joint, open chain exercise. Open chain exercises refer to movements where the distal extremity (hand or foot) is not fixed and is freely moving in space with or without external resistance. Examples of open chain exercises include a bicep curl, hamstring leg curl, and shoulder fly. Open chain exercises cause an isolated muscle contraction over a single joint of movement, which some believe to be beneficial in the early stages of an injury rehabilitation program. Open chain exercises are in contrast to ‘closed chain exercises’ where the hand or foot is fixed to the floor. Examples of closed chain exercises include the squat, deadlift, or push up. Closed chain exercises involve multiple muscle groups and require coordinated muscle contractions to complete the compound (multi-joint) movement.
The forces imparted on the joints differ between open and closed chain exercises. For open chain exercises (quadricep knee extension) the force imparted by the weighted resistance is transmitted back up the leg and into the knee joint. This force can cause compression in the knee joint, putting increased pressure on the meniscus, ACL, PCL, and patella-femoral joint. In contrast, with closed chain exercises (deadlift) the force imparted by the external resistance is transmitted into the ground. For instance, in a deadlift, the force from the load is pressed through the feet into the ground rather than up the body into the knees and hips.
The second problem with the exercise is that it is a repetitive concentric exercise. Remember from my last post, concentric muscle contractions occur when the muscle is shortening and repetitive contractions over time can cause a shortening and tightening of the muscle fibers even while at rest. Ignoring the eccentric (muscle lengthening) component of a muscle’s function can be detrimental to movement patterns and ultimately put you at an increased risk of injury. Additionally, a short and tight quadriceps muscle can pull upwards on the patella, altering the mechanics of the patella-femoral joint and cause conditions such as patellar tendinitis which is also known as Jumper’s knee.
What to do instead – deadlifts, squats, single leg squats, reverse lunges
If you want to strengthen your quads and the rest of the muscles in your leg, the best exercises are closed chain, compound movements that integrate the feet, hips, and core to create a functional and stable lower body. My favorites are deadlifts and lunges because you can add a lot of weight without placing much force on the knee joint (when performed properly).
As I said previously, closed chain exercises like the squat and lunge transmit force down into the ground, which is why they are popular for building speed and explosiveness in strength and conditioning programs.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.
Check out his bio here.