Creating Healthy Minds in Children: Nutritional and Environmental Factors

Dr. John Gannage, MD, MCFP, DipHom

Notes from Orthomolecular Health talk March 20, 2013

Dr. John Gannage – Twitter @DrJGannageMD –

On Wednesday March 20th, Rebecca and I attended the first of a series of talks on ‘MINDFUL’ – a network that provides education on the role that diet, lifestyle and nutrition plays on mental health. These wonderful lectures – organized by the International Schizophrenia Foundation (ISF),  – are based on over 40 years of research and clinical practice into orthomolecular approaches for mental health and wellness.

Pioneered by Dr. Abram Hoffer and popularized by two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, the term ‘Orthomolecular’ simply means ‘correct fit’. It’s about using the ‘correct’ nutritional molecule in the correct amount, to balance the body’s biochemistry.

The guest speaker this evening was Dr. John Gannage, an Integrative Medicine Doctor, whose main focus is on assisting children and families affected by developmental issues (including Autism).  Although the toxicity angle he covered this evening was frightening – the main message we took away this evening was uplifting… the body and developing fetus can be supported if the gut and liver are supported and healed.

Overview and Introduction

•Tonight’s talk addresses brain-based conditions from the nutrition perspective only.  We will be talking ‘functional malnourishment’ – you can be overweight and still be malnourished
•Between ages 12-17, one in five children will have a diagnosable mental health condition
•Neuro-developmental conditions affect one in every 6 children
•Included under this umbrella are Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.
•Mental health conditions are not solely genetic; they are an expression of a child’s interaction with his or her environment, which include:
•Emotional/physiological issues, toxicity, malnourishment (vitamin and mineral deficiencies), neuro-inflammation, dysbiosis of gut (gut-brain connection), food intolerances.
•See study on dysbiosis, published today in the Journal of Medicine:
•Keep in mind, genetic susceptibility is NOT the end-all. Much can be done

Symptoms are a sign of altered chemistry and electrical activity in the brain related to diet, local brain nutrients, accumulated toxins, inflammation in the brain and other factors that have little to with a Ritalin or Prozac deficiency.

The Disease Sequence


Gut-brain connection
•Well-established clinically and in research studies
•The brain is connected to the gut via the Vagus Nerve. When you feel ‘butterflies in your stomach’, that is the gut-brain axis or Vagus nerve being stimulated
•Nourishment is hindered by malabsorption in the gut and leaky gut
•Colic in babies – studies show there are gut imbalance and allergies at play.

Gut Ecosystem Disturbed by:
•Antibiotics (from food as well as pharmaceuticals), dietary chemicals, chlorinated tap water, other medications, food intolerance, birthing process
•See work of Derrick McFabe, University of Western Ontario . McFabe noticed that a subgroup of children with autism had gastrointestinal problems. Recent research has indicated immune changes and ‘interesting bacteria’ in these patients. For further reading on Dr. McFabe’s work, see:

Gut ecosystem responsible for:

· Immune regulation, remote inflammation, production of vitamins K, B and D, excitotoxins from unhealthy bacteria

·Provides precursors for neurotransmitters for brain chemistry, affects gene expression of brain cells, GI tract part of peripheral nervous system

· GABA, serotonin, melatonin all produced in gut

· See Scientific American, 2011 article on gut bacteria by Robert Martone, entitled, Neuroscience of Gut,  which points out how certain bacteria are implicated in the development of neurological behaviours.
•Gluten and dairy can impact gut and brain health
•Functional medicine emphasizes gut and liver support, including probiotics, for optimal brain protection and development
•Link between GI disorders and Autism [research 1999 University of Maryland in Journal of Psychiatry. See: The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 135, Issue 5 , Pages 559-563, November 1999

Related Comments post lecture: •Never give children Tylenol before vaccination as Tylenol depletes glutathione. •You need glutathione in order to safely remove heavy metals and toxins from the body, and to ensure a strong immune system. Children with autism are poor ‘methylators’, meaning that they have problems combining •An absorbable form of liquid glutathione is ‘RediSorb’ Liposomal glutathione which was developed by physician and scientific researcher Frederick Timothy Gliford. You still need to add other antioxidants however, when undertaking a detoxification of the body. •To listen to interview between Dr Jeffrey Bland and Dr. Gilford on glutathione’s Redox/antioxidant and detoxification properties, see this link:

Environmental Exposure
•Low-level exposures to multiple industrial chemicals (some of which come through diet) are associated with mental health problems in children
•Brain enormously impacted by environmental toxins: toxic heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum), auto exhaust (also source of lead), PCBs, PBDEs, DDT, food additives, pesticides – even banned substances in North America being reintroduced in products from developing nations
•Water supply contaminated by industrial run-off
•Combination of this with ‘chemical soup’ of environment and pharmaceuticals is a formidable problem.

Bioaccumulation – humans at top of food chain
•Mercury and PCBs through fish – concentrated in a developing fetus and in breast milk – so be conscious of the amount and type of fish you are consuming
•The Standard American Diet (SAD) contains many toxic chemicals – especially Aspartame and MSG.
•Read labels – MSG may be listed as ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein’ and Aspartame may appear as ‘Amino Sweet’.
•The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that out of every 300,000 newborns each year, 14 are exposed to levels of methylmercury that exceed guidelines put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency for developing fetuses.
•Mercury fillings = 50% mercury
•We must learn lessons from history – leaded gasoline alone has had a huge impact on health

Maternal-fetal transfer
•Virtually all pregnant women have chemicals in their bodies that might harm fetal development
•[research by Sangiv et al on Prentatal Organochloride Exposure to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Behaviour– 2010 American Journal of Epidemiology]
•See:  and
•Exposure to mercury in womb lowers IQ – fillings, hair, cord blood
•Children living near highways are 2X more at risk for developing autism.
•The researchers from Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los theorized that the type and sheer quantity of chemicals distributed on highways are different from those on even the busiest city roadways.
•Lead in womb connected to schizophrenia (from auto exhaust) – damage to CNS in developing fetus
•Lead has been added to gas since 1920s.
•Lead from gasoline remains in soil, trees and is stirred up by the wind/traffic and carried to new sites (an estimated 7 million tons of gasoline remains in atmosphere after being burned)
•Lead is retained in bones. An adult only retains 10% of lead they have been exposed to but children retain 68% due to immature detoxification systems.
•Children have underdeveloped blood/brain barriers (up to 6 years of age).
•Kids are always ‘mouthing’ and touching things.
•Look to urine testing for levels of heavy metals.
•Most menopausal women are unable to detoxify as easily (No longer shedding excess toxins through menses cycle). Breast cancer rates increase post-menopause.
•Nutrients are your greatest defence against toxins.

•Critical time to assess and correct clinical or subclinical nutrient deficiencies in mother and educate about limiting environmental exposures
•Limit toxic exposures to mom and the developing brain
•The greatest defence against chemical exposure is nutrients – for mother and child
•Pregnancy support – Folic acid (400 mcg), Omega 3s (100-500 mg), Vit D (400 IU), Ca (300-800 mg), Mg (200-400 mg)

Diet Goals
•Choose organic foods as much as possible

•Whole foods – NO chemicals, NO cow’s milk or casein in any ingredient list, NO gluten, NO soy, NO sugar, choose organic, local foods

•Reduce inflammation and mucus
•Prevent sugar highs and lows
•Stop drugging the brain
•Gluten and Casein when partially digested, act like opiates and disturb neurochemistry
•To balance neurochemistry, heal the gut and support healthy bowel flora
•Refined sugar is a major issue in children’s mental health
•Avoid processed foods and dietary chemicals like MSG and aspartame
•Food intolerances can be an issue
•Neurological differences between 9 year-old children fed breast milk early on, and those fed formula
•Don’t introduce milk or wheat until minimum 21 months.
•In clinical practice, Dr Gannage has noticed huge changes in behaviour after these foods have been removed from the diet.
•8,000 new synthetic chemicals have been introduced to our diets in the past 50 years – how many of them have been properly safety tested?

Top Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Foods to Avoid:

· 85% of corn and 91% of soy are GMO.

· 84% of genetically engineered foods are ‘convenience foods’ and those foods ‘stabilized for long shelf-life’ for the convenience of the supplier.

· Pesticides can be used more easily on GMOs. Many of the seeds have built-in pesticides, i.e., Bt toxins, which damage the gut lining of larvae or insects.

· Bt toxin can now be found in human blood and it is not harmless. A 2012 study from France shows that Bt Toxin kills human kidney cells.

· [See Seralini et al:  ]

· All of these chemicals cause oxidative stress, and this depletes glutathione and other antioxidants in the body.

Flame Retardants (PBDEs)

· PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl esters) were brought to the marketplace by Monsanto.

· They are now banned in North America , but are still being used in developing countries. Products imported from these countries may still contain PBDEs.

· The fibres in these products act like lead in the body.

Critical Nutrients
•Glutathione is a critical antioxidant in brain protection. It supports the brains from oxidation and chemicals
•Glutathione is low in children with Autism
•Stress depletes glutathione levels
•Other important nutrients include: Essential Fatty Acids, B vitamins (esp B12, B6, B3 and folate), iron, magnesium, certain amino acids (theanine, taurine, GABA, tryptophan), Alpha-lipoic acid
•Magnesium is very important for mental health, possibly the most important mineral
•[research Jill James study B12 + folinic acid can raise glutathione levels and B6]
•[great book – Alan Gaby 2011, Nutritional Medicine]
•Start in every case by supporting the gut and liver
•Glutathione protects the brain from oxidation and toxins
•The mothers of children with autism have been tested and also found to be low in glutathione.
•Mitochondrial support – use Ubiquinol form of Co-Q10.
•Acetyl-Cystein and Alpha-Lipoic Acid convert into glutathione in the liver
•A very stable version of glutathione is a liquid (liposomal) version produced by physician and scientist Tim Gilford, called RediSorb.
•Upregulate glutathione
•Antioxidants and plant-based foods protect against pro-oxidants which damage the brain cells.
•Stay away from refined carbohydrates and eat lots of vegetables and fruits.

· MethylB12, folate, and B6 are very important. You can make them in the gut from whole foods, alpha-lipoic acid, and other antioxidants.


· These are ‘gears’ that switch things on or off in the body (switch good things on/switch undesirable things off).

· The Krebs cycle is important for making energy. The brain never really sleeps. Neither does your heart or other muscles.

· Conversions in the Krebs cycle require B6 and zinc (incidentally, these are your mental health vitamins, and during times of stress, these nutrients get depleted).

· That’s where folic acid comes in.

· Jill James et al showed that Folinic Acid and methylB12 will raise glutathione in kids with autism.

· Children with Autism are poor methylators

Caesarian-Sections and Child’s Gut Health

· Despite the World Health Organization’s advice, 1 in 4 women will get a C-section

· As the baby leaves the birth canal, it picks up certain bacteria from the mother which the help to populate its own body.

· Non-vaginal birth babies tend to have different gut bacteria.

Advice – pre-conception and post-birth

· Don’t eat gluten and dairy for 9 months, especially if you already have a child with autism in the family (or any child that is ill with an auto-immune or gut-related illness).

· Hold off painting the nursery and avoid purchasing new carpets.

· Close windows during summer if near a highway.

· Don’t use pesticide on the property and stay away from all pesticides.

· Dental cleaning – be careful. Don’t undergo a cleaning during pregnancy (there is potential re: bacteria entering through scraping of gums).

· Avoid immediate clamping of the umbilical cord following birth. Let the blood flow. This helps to boost iron stores to the baby.

Pregnancy Vitamin Advice

· Folic Acid – reduced by BCP, alcohol, low intake of fruits and vegetables.

· Just 400 mcg of folic acid per day will decrease autism risk by 40% (Jama, 2013)

· Omega 3 oils from fish (100-500 mgs DHA daily)

· Vitamin D – more than 400 iu/day for newborn

If planning pregnancy, also check:

· Omega 3 score

· Glutathione

· Methylation profile

· MTFHR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) levels.

· The MTFHR gene provides important instructions for how the body will process amino acids, (the building blocks of protein).

· Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is important for a chemical reaction involving forms of the B-vitamin folate (also called folic acid or vitamin B9).

· This reaction is required for the multistep process that converts the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine, which the body uses to make proteins and other important compounds

· Variations in the MTHFR gene have been associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects, so you want to make sure that MTFHR is optimal

Breast Milk Contains:

· Probiotics, Vit D, B6, B9, B12

· Good B vitamin status helps to ensure methylation for the child

Nutrients for Behaviour

· Give support to liver (incorporate herbs, homeopathics)

· For anxiety and restlessness, use magnesium, B vitamins, iron, omega 3s, and amino acids L-Theanine, Taurine, GABA and Tryptophan.

· For ADHD, use same approach.

Ensure quality of Supplements

· DON’T purchase supplements from countries that do not have strict health regulatory practices in place . Only purchase from companies that perform 3rd party, independent quality assurance and batch-testing.

· Any industry regulating itself has proven to be dangerous to human health – especially since the goal of industry is profit before public health.

· Exposure to toxins affects health acutely, chronically and across generations.

· NB: Vitamin D during pregnancy is vital for keeping the lead in the bones and not free-circulating.

In closing….

Our greatest defence comes from nutrients, education and avoidance.

For more information on the MINDFUL charity, or to make a difference to children’s mental health issues though a donation, kindly contact:

16 Florence Avenue
Toronto , ON Canada M2N lE9
Tel (416) 733-2117

For general information please contact:

For specific information regarding ways to donate, get involved or get more information please contact:

Julie Notto, Program Development
(416) 733-2117

Mindful is a network that provides education about the role that diet, nutrition and lifestyle play in maintaining children’s mental health.

Put a Spring in your Step with a 5-Day Foods-Based Spring Cleanse

Photo credit: Dr Mark Hyman, M.D.,  The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook

March is nutrition month in Canada. As we move closer to the warmer spring weather, it is also appropriate to re-think our health following yet another harsh winter. Spring is just the ideal time to let in light and let go of old diet and self-defeating habits.Instead of a crazy fast or expensive ‘packaged’ cleanse, why not try detoxifying with real, living, nutrient dense foods? A real food cleanse can last anywhere from three to twenty-one days and uses juices, smoothies and pureed vegetable soups.  All of these foods are easy on the digestive system and nourish the body with antioxidants and phytonutrients (nutrients from colourful plant-based sources). Even if you do not wish to puree your food, going on a clean diet has many benefits. Fresh plants are rooted in nature, literally, and they have natural energy which is passed on to you.

By making the switch from eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) to eating high fibre and nutrient-dense foods, you will give your body the opportunity to “Rest and Digest’. This sounds like a modest goal but it really is the key to good health. It is also the very basis of holistic nutrition which places strong emphasis on digestive health.

For your Cleanse, try a five-day period from Monday to Friday. Weekends are not always conducive to undertaking dietary changes. If following the recommendations properly, you should not feel hungry or deprived while ‘eating clean’, especially if you are choosing low glycemic-load, high-fibre foods which fill you up and keep your blood sugars stable. But first…

What is Detoxification?Detoxification is about ‘opening all the doors’ of elimination. All of the channels of elimination (kidneys, skin, intestine, blood, lymph, sweat) must be opened before you start detoxifying the liver. Otherwise, your liver will feel overburdened and you will start to experience headaches and malaise (signs of a healing crisis). Your skin is your largest detoxification organ, so remember to rub your skin with a dry brush or old, stiff towel before getting in the shower to rev up your circulation and help you to detox further.

Detoxification does not mean fasting. Most people do not have the proper blood sugar control to fast and end up feeling dizzy, hungry and may even find it difficult to participate in everyday activities.

Five Day Real Food Cleanse Undertaking a real food cleanse carries less chance of triggering a “healing crisis”. This basically means that your body has reached its ability to safely detoxify toxins. When that happens, the body tries to ‘help’ detoxification along by bringing on bring on diarrhea, headaches, and inflammation. As your body lets go of toxic waste, and your cells become cleaner, it becomes easier to recognize a hidden reaction to gluten, dairy, soy or any of the other common food allergies. When you are feeling sick and tired all the time, it is harder to ‘listen’ to what is wrong.

People who consume the most caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, (or who have multiple food allergies), may experience some malaise when they first make the switch from a Standard American Diet (SAD) to a whole-foods cleanse. Symptoms of withdrawal (headaches, cravings, fatigue) usually disappear after three to four days. It is best to slowly reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, white flour, and over-the-counter medications (except as directed by your physician) a week or two before you start your program.

How to prepare for a Cleanse?
Your first step is to put in place optimal conditions for detoxification, so find a time to when your stress-load is not as high, and make sure that you have stocked the refrigerator and pantry with fresh, alkaline-forming foods. Of course, get rid of any prepared and processed foods in the house before you attempt a Cleanse. There is no sense in having a protein bar (yes, that constitutes a prepared food!) in your pantry as you attempt a Cleanse.

Many of the ideas listed here are from Dr. Mark Hyman MD’s article, “Detox made safe and Simple”, and from his books “The Blood Sugar Solution”, and “The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook”

1. Do a Kitchen Detox! Toss out any junk or prepared foods, draft weekly menus, and make shopping lists for healthy foods you will be eating. This will ensure your success.

A 3-day shopping list for a whole-foods Cleanse can be found here:

To go on a 5-day Cleanse you will need to double the amount of items purchased and follow the cleanse an additional 2 days.  Here is your routine:

2. Take your measurements and weigh yourself before you begin. If weight loss is your goal, measure your waist, hips, and record your weight so that you can track progress as you complete the whole-foods Cleanse.

3. Using a 5-day Diet and Mood Diary will keep you aware of what you are putting in your mouth and how you feel afterwards. If you are prone to mood changes or migraines, make a note of what you are feeling and track duration, intensity and frequency. Later you can make note of any improvement when do your next 5-day cleanse.

4. Journaling is a great way to “cleanse” your soul and relieve yourself of mental and emotional stress. 4. Have ready any supplements you need to take that have been advised for you by your certified nutritional practitioner.

5. Exercise but easy does it. Aim for yoga, stretching, 20 minute walks in fresh air now.

6. Be prepared – have ready snacks in your fridge and book bag. Since life is ever changing, make sure that you keep healthy foods and snacks prepared ahead of time so that you can be ready for any changes in your schedule. Keep a wrapped organic apple, and a small container of soaked almonds or cut-up vegetables in your book bag for those times. Healthy dips such as zucchini hummus, or salsa or mashed avocado with cilantro and lemon juice and olive oil can also be kept in the fridge.

7. Move those bowels! If you experience constipation, consider taking 300 milligrams of magnesium citrate a couple of hours before bed. First thing in the morning, have a cup of warm water with lemon. You could also try soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath the night before (2 cups of Epsom salt dissolved in the water with a few drops of lavender oil). The salt’s key component, magnesium, supports hundreds of enzymes in the body. An even better, (although a more expensive option) would be to soak in pH 8 ‘Alka Bath’ crystals, which draw acidity and toxins from the body. The product is available through Dr P Jentschura alkaline living products.

Let’s say that you want to do a cleanse, but don’t like the idea of liquid meals…

What Should I Eat?

EATA whole-foods diet.

Digestion takes work and slows down other functions such as detoxification.   As digestion work eases, there is a point at which the body receives a signal   to enter detoxification mode intensely.    As it does that, it releases trapped toxins and mucus.

DON’T EATAnything out of a package, box   or tin or which contains chemicals.
Whole leafy vegetables, leafy   greens. Dark leafy greens are also a great way to get natural calcium. Dairy – No dairy for 5 days.  If you can, cut it out entirely. Almond,   hemp or coconut milk can be substituted for milk.
Naturally detoxifying   vegetables – cauliflower,   broccoli and leafy greens, help eliminate toxins and normalize hormones. Frozen, canned or dehydrated   vegetables and fruits. Aim for fresh and ‘living’ produce of every colour.Avoid any foods which your   system might be sensitive to, or cause stiff joints. Some people are   sensitive to ‘night-shades’ such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes,   yams and sweet potatoes.
Low Glycemic Grasses, grains   and Seeds: Brown basmati rice (lower glycemic), black or mahogany rice, and quinoa   (a seed which cooks like a grain), are good choices. Some gluten free grains   are fine however keep in mind that grains raise insulin levels.Instead of wheat, try almond or   coconut flour. Gluten grains and wheat.
Stevia as a sweetener (or do   without – fresh, natural food is sweet enough). Sugar – even ‘natural sugars’   should be removed from the diet as they also spike insulin, get converted in   the liver into glucagon and triglycerides, make you fat and create   inflammation in the body.
Beans, lentils (avoid soy   beans) provide fibre to help regulate blood sugar, as well as help move   toxins out. If you have sensitivities to legumes, avoid. Soy (even non-GMO tends to be   contaminated). If eating soy, make sure that it is fermented soy (i.e., Tempeh,   miso).
Green and white tea (unroasted   green tea), with lemon slices can help bridge you over the hump of coffee   withdrawal headaches. They will also help to detoxify you. Otherwise, herbal   teas without caffeine, such as dandelion root tea, or ‘Alka-Tea’ which   contains 49 alkalinizing wild-crafted herbs, are great choices. Coffee, soda, alcohol.  Coffee is acidic, a diuretic and can make   you feel less calm during a Cleanse. Soda contains carbon dioxide (waste   product) as well as ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, which creates   enormous stress on your liver and body tissues.
Wild fish, organic chicken and   turkey (if choosing to eat meat protein on this cleanse). Corn (corn is a processed grain   made from maize and usually this is genetically modified).
Good Saturated Fats – Avocado   and coconut, their oils and butters. Avoid commercially raised red   meat and farmed fish for 5 days. During a Cleanse the goal is to put less stress   on your liver and kidneys. If eating protein, make sure that it is grass-fed,   hormone-free lean protein such as egg whites, chicken, turkey, or   sustainably caught Cold-water fish. Proteins secrete the hormone glucagon   which helps in fat loss. 
Nuts, seeds and nut butters,   extra-virgin olive oil. Avoid peanuts. They are a   legume, grown under-ground and can harbour mold. They are also acidic.
Fruits – whole fruits and   berries. Fruits that are highly sprayed   or prematurely ripened – eat organic. Otherwise, take caution around   strawberries, oranges, grapes and bananas.

To watch a video of Dr. Oz on a 3-day liquid, vegan version of this cleanse, (and also get recipes), see this link:

As you embark on your whole-foods Cleanse, keep in mind:

1) Try not to cheat as you eliminate all refined sugars, flours, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten, or addictive substances. By allowing certain triggers to stay in the diet the body stays on the vicious cycle of cravings and addictive behavior. Reset your biology to eliminate all triggers. After a few days without sugar or refined flours, you will not miss them.

2) Eat in Season – Visit the farmer’s market, learn what is in season, and eat whole foods when they’re fresh and abundant.

3) Drink lots of water. Drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered water daily. Stay away from plastic bottles. Add a squeezed wedge of lemon – it is great for cleansing, as lemon is nature’s magic cleaner. In the spring, the ice melts and the rivers run strong. Imitate spring in your body with fresh water flowing through it constantly. Be careful not to over-hydrate or you will wash out your body’s natural minerals. Urine should be the colour of pale straw and slightly acidic. If it is very light, you are probably drinking too much water or herbal tea.

4) Don’t wait until you are starving to eat! Balance your blood sugar by eating protein-based meals and snacks every three to four hours. Excellent sources of protein are baked or broiled fish, lean poultry or black beans.

5) Supplement your diet with a high quality multi-vitamin, fish oil supplement and a wide-spectrum probiotic. Acidophilus is “friendly” bacteria that helps to maintain a healthy digestive micro-flora, but it is only one of the many beneficial strains available to you. Each probiotic bacteria has a specific job. Some turn on minerals such as zinc, some activate vitamin D, others turn on serotonin receptors, or protect you from pathogenic bacteria. Still others work with fatty acids in your intestines. Make sure you don’t limit yourself to one strain.

To help you prevent detoxification headaches, ensure that your bowels and body tissues are clean. For your tissues, supplement with 500 grams vitamin C with bioflavonoids with breakfast and dinner. If needed, take 300 milligrams magnesium citrate a couple of hours before bed to aid with elimination in the morning.

6) Add Essential fats and oils – EFAs such as fish oil, Borage oil, flaxseed oil, are wonderful for putting out the fire of any inflammation that may be in your body. “Essential’ means that you need them – your body cannot manufacture them on your own. You must include these oils (or their food equivalents) in your diet. If not, you absolutely must supplement for them.

7) Detox digitally – turn off your cell phone, television, computer, and stop tweeting! Turn off your phone, computer and television for a day. Spend the day writing a handwritten note to a friend, reading a book, cooking a meal from scratch or reconnecting with nature.

8) Get Moving – Increasing body temperature and blood flow with exercise and stretching aids the body’s ability to cleanse. Start each day by touching your toes in the shower for 10 seconds and end the day by touching your toes in bed for 10 seconds. Practicing this simple movement twice a day not only improves flexibility but also brings heat to the digestive tract, which naturally assists the body in the disposing of toxins. If you can’t touch your toes at first, don’t worry. If you try for 10 seconds every morning and night, you’ll be able to do it in no time. And, as always, don’t forget to breathe!

To boost energy, exercise for 30 minutes a day. Walking outside in fresh air is best. Roll up those sleeves and let the sun hit you with some vitamin D!

9) Take an infrared sauna… or a lavender-scented bath – Heat is a great resource while cleansing as it helps draw out toxins from within. If you don’t have access to a sauna, try an Epsom salts bath for 20 minutes a few times per week.

10) Chill-out – Activating your ‘Rest and Digest’ parasympathetic nervous system helps restore your energy, stops production of the stress hormone cortisol, and helps your body to heal and replenish itself. Meditation, deep breathing, or any calming activity is good. Fatigue is normal during a Cleanse so allow more time for rest.

12) Get deep Sleep – Nature has its own cycles and rhythms. Going to sleep at sundown and waking up at sunrise is one sure way to sync with all of nature. Eight hours of sleep is ideal.

13) Do all those nice things that you like to do – Make sure you fit time for deep relaxation into your plan and things that make you happy, whether that means reading a good book undisturbed, or visiting friends who put the wind back in your sails.

14) Don’t smoke (or spend time around smokers, gasoline or exhaust fumes) – that would defeat the purpose of any health initiative. It goes without saying that you should not be taking any recreational drugs or alcohol during a Cleanse.

In closing, a 5-day whole-foods cleanse is safe and allows the body to heal itself naturally. You will start to make it up the stairs with less creaking of the knees, your skin will glow with vitality and you will feel more energetic. In making these changes, always work with a Certified Nutritional Practitioner to help determine what cleanse (and length of cleanse) will work best for you.

After completing your 5-day whole-foods cleanse, and following the advice listed above, you will be amazed at the amount of mucus that leaves your body. Mucus is the body’s way of defending itself from the irritation caused by toxin accumulation. Keep a journal and track your symptoms. You should feel more energetic in three to seven days after eating a clean whole-foods diet. If you do not feel well at this point, please exercise caution and check in with your doctor.

To your excellent health!

Cooking is a Revolutionary Act – Dr Mark Hyman M.D.

GUEST BLOG by Dr. Hyman

Cooking Is a Revolutionary Act

The cure for what ails us — both in our bodies and in our nation — can be found in the kitchen. It is a place to rebuild community and connection, strengthen bonds with family and friends, teach life-giving skills to our children, enrich and nourish our bodies and our souls. Yet, in the twenty-first century, our kitchens (and our taste buds) have been hijacked by the food industry. In 1900 only 2 percent of meals were eaten outside of the home; today that number is over 50 percent.

The food-like substances proffered by the industrial food system trick our taste buds into momentary pleasure. But our biology rejects the junk forced on our genes and on our hormonal and biochemical pathways. Your tongue can be fooled and your brain can become addicted to the slick combinations of fat, sugar, and salt pumped into factory- made foods, but your biochemistry cannot handle these foods, and the result is the disaster we have in America today — 70 percent of us are overweight, and obesity rates are expected to top 42 percent by the end of the next decade (up from only 13 percent in 1960).

Today one in two Americans has either pre-diabetes or diabetes. In less than a decade the rate of pre-diabetes or diabetes in teenagers has risen from 9 percent to 23 percent. Really? Almost one in four kids has pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes? Yes, and, perhaps even more shocking, 37 percent of kids at a normal weight have one or more cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar, because even though factory food doesn’t necessarily make you fat, it does make you sick! The food industry taxes our health and mortgages our children’s futures. Obese children will earn less, suffer more, and die younger.

It is time to take back our kitchens and our homes. Transforming the food industry seems like a gigantic undertaking, but it is in fact an easy fix. The solution is in our shopping carts, our refrigerators, and our cupboards — and on our dining room tables. This is where the power is. It is the hundreds of small choices you make every day, choices that will topple the monolithic food industry.

We need a revolution. Cooking real food is a revolutionary act. We have lost the means to care for ourselves. We have now raised the second generation of Americans who don’t know how to cook. The average child in America doesn’t know how to identify even the most basic vegetables and fruit; our kids don’t know where their food comes from or even that it grows on a farm. Cooking means microwaving. Food comes in boxes, plastic bags, and cans. Reading labels is supremely unhelpful in identifying the source of most foods — the ingredients are mostly factory-made science projects with a remote and unrecognizable lineage to real food.

We are brainwashed into thinking that cooking real food costs too much, is too hard, and takes too long. Hence, we rely on inexpensive convenience foods. But these aren’t so convenient when we become dependent on hundreds of dollars of medication a month, when we can’t work because we are sick and fat and sluggish, or when we feel so bad we can’t enjoy life anymore. The average American spends eight hours a day in front of a screen (mostly the television) and spends more time watching cooking shows than actually cooking.

Convenience is killing us.

In fact, real food can be inexpensive. Choosing simple ingredients, cooking from scratch, shopping at discount club stores, and getting produce from community supported agriculture associations (CSAs), community gardens, or co-ops all build health and community and save money. Europeans spend nearly 20 percent of their income on food, Americans only about 9 percent. Food is the best investment in your health.

I believe in the power of collective intelligence. Within my community are hundreds, if not thousands, of unheralded chefs experimenting with food and creating extraordinary meals and recipes. Within our individual and our national communities is the cure for what ails us. We are the answer. We are the revolutionaries who will change the face of food in America and around the world. The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook is the product of this collective intelligence. Truly, the community is the cure!

Yes, we need to change policy in order to change the food we grow and to subsidize real food instead of the walls of processed fat, sugar, flour, and trans fats that line our grocery and convenience stores. Yes, we need to end food marketing to children. We need to make schools safe zones for kids with only those products and activities that support healthy minds and bodies. There is no room for junk food or factory foods in schools. Period. Yes, we need all that and more to take back our kitchens and our health. But each of us can start at home with a kitchen makeover. Three simple actions can change everything:

1. Do a fridge makeover.
2. Do a pantry makeover.
3. Do a shopping cart makeover.

This book gives you advice on what to keep and what to discard from your fridge, pantry and shopping cart. It also provides recipes — gathered from our own community of health and cooking revolutionaries — to delight your palate, stimulate your senses, and nourish your body and soul. The recipes are designed to be made, shared, and enjoyed with friends and family. Think of this book as a roadmap to pleasure and health.

Once you have taken back your kitchen, then you can start something really revolutionary. Find eight (or so) people you would love to know better or spend more time with. Invite them to start a supper club — once a week or once a month. Rotate dinners at one another’s houses. Share the cooking by creating a potluck, or take turns choosing some favorite recipes from this cookbook and preparing a feast for all. At each dinner pick a topic — about food, health, or community — to discuss. Then let the juices flow. The stew of food and friendship will nourish you deeply. In this way — one by one, kitchen by kitchen, community by community — we will take back our health together!

Get started today! Get a copy of The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook today. When you purchase this book from this link you will gain access to these exclusive Dr. Hyman bonuses:
• An invitation to join Dr. Hyman on a live online webinar on March 27th, 2013. Open to the first 500 buyers only.
• In the Kitchen with Dr. Hyman – a “how to” online video series where Dr. Hyman shows you how to shift from a “factory food” diet that’s making you sick to meals that make you healthy. Featuring 90 minutes of entertaining how-to videos.
• A 1week Gluten-Free meal plan, with all new recipes.

* Pilar Gerasimo and her 101 Revolutionary Ways to be Healthy inspired the idea that cooking is a revolutionary act. To learn the other 100 revolutionary ways to be healthy, go to or check out the app.

Reversing Diabesity is a Collective Effort

6 week plan to end your diabesity – Dr Mark Hyman on Dr OzToday we have for you a video by functional medicine doctor, Mark Hyman MD. This is the first entry in a series on ‘diabesity’ and what to do about it. Hyman points out that Diabesity is the number one killer of the 21st century. Today one in 2 people in America have either Type II diabetes or pre-diabetes.. and almost one in 4 children have prediabetes or type II diabetes. What is needed is a revolution to take back not only our collective health but the health of future generations. The best thing about this revolution is that it is an ‘easy fix’ — you get to spend it in your kitchen creating and eating the most amazingly delicious, wholesome food. It is about sharing what works with others and taking back our health and power. Stay tuned – day by day we’ll be sharing recipes from the New Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook (out today!) • Dr. Hyman explains it as a social effort. Share the Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook with your community, and help spread the word of health and vitality. «»




DO I HAVE DIABESITY? Diabesity refers to the continuum of blood sugar and insulin imbalance that causes everything from mild weight problems and a little belly fat to pre-diabetes to full-blown type 2 diabetes. It affects one in two Americans, one in four African Americans, one in four Medicare patients, and one in four teenagers. It is a global problem— 80 percent of the world’s diabetics live in developing countries. And it affects skinny people, too! In fact 37 percent of skinny kids and 23 percent of skinny adults (only 35 percent of Americans are considered of normal weight) have diabesity— they look skinny but are metabolically fat. Doctors call it “metabolically obese normal weight.” I call it the “skinny fat syndrome.” Indeed, 90 percent of people with diabesity are not diagnosed. In other words, you probably have it and don’t know it. Take this short quiz to see…

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Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for Depression: What is it, is it safe, and does it work?

1) Part 1
2) Part 2

A new, non-invasive treatment for depressed individuals is garnering much interest… even though it has been around for almost 15 years. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), is a non-invasive procedure which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the parts of the brain associated with mood control and depression. In short, rTMS is a non-invasive way to re-wire the brain. It all sounds very strange, but the procedure is being studied by the top medical schools in North America, and is offered in well-respected institutions such as Mayo Clinic. The therapy is now being used as an alternative for those who do not respond to or tolerate antidepressant medication.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in North America, and affects about 4 percent of Canadians annually.1 Although a number of drug therapy treatments are available, as many of 30 percent of patients fail to respond to conventional treatments2 and about 60 percent experience a relapse.3

The aim of the therapy is stimulation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the area associated with regulating mood. A black wire coil shaped like a figure 8 is held to the top of the head, just above the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain connected to planning and organization. The prefrontal cortex has many connections to other parts of the brain including the hippocampus area which helps regulate emotions.

Turning My Brain Back On?
When the current goes through the wire, it sets up a powerful external magnetic field at 1 ½ Tesla – a strength similar to which one experiences with an MRI machine. This magnetic field excites the neurons underneath the coil. Your doctor will determine the amount of magnetic energy needed – your ‘motor threshold’ is the dose needed to get your fingers or hands to twitch.

The electromagnetic coil is switched on and off repeatedly, up to 10 times a second to produce a series of pulses which sound very much like a woodpecker tap. It is surmised that the pulsing current (3,000 pulses over a 37-minute session), jumpstarts underactive mood-regulating circuitry and cells. It also enlarges blood vessels, allowing more oxygen to get in.

The hoped-for result is that one can change the electrical pathways and events by which one processes and receives information.4

Doctors at this point are not certain whether it is better to target one or both sides of the brain. Nor have they determined how intense to make the electromagnetic field. If it is too strong, there is risk of causing a seizure, but if it is too weak, the treatment won’t work. For these reasons, the therapy is regarded as experimental, says Dr. Gary Hasey, who started the first therapeutic transcranial magnetic stimulation lab in Canada in 1997.5

“This is ground-breaking work”, says Dr. Jeff Daslalakis, a psychiatrist who runs the brain treatment and research program at the University of Toronto. “Studies show that at least 40 percent of these people improve.”6

FDA and Health Canada Approved
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation was approved by Health Canada in 1997, and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008. In Canada the treatment is available through the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). There, people come for 20-minute sessions, twice a week.

In the Canadian public healthcare system, rTMS is available in Toronto, Vancouver and Red Deer Alberta, but growing demand means that there can be long wait-times. At Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the wait is one year. The MindCare Centre, has offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, and is Canada’s only private clinic. Each session costs around CAD 250.00. An entire course of Acute Treatment consisting of 20-30 sessions and initial intake consultation is around around CAD 5,000 to 7,500. The course of treatment lasts two to three weeks. In Canada, the fees can be covered under insurance, on a case-by-case basis.

Does it Work?
In a recent double-blinded, randomized, industry-independent, multi-university, tightly controlled study, electromagnetic stimulation treatment accounted for remissions in 14 percent of antidepressant resistant patients, compared to 5 percent in the simulated treatment control group.7 Researchers from Columbia University, the University of Washington, and Emory University reported their findings in the May 2009 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

A sample of 190 patients who had previously failed to respond to antidepressant medications received at least three weeks of randomized, controlled magnetic stimulations on weekdays for three weeks, with the rTMS magnet aimed at their brain’s left prefrontal cortex. Patients who responded to active treatment received up to three weeks of additional, blinded rTMS until they achieved remission. This group then received a combination of medications intended to maintain the treatment effect. The result was that they remained in remission for several months.

Study participants who failed to improve during the blinded phase, entered a course of open-label rTMS. Among those who had been in the active rTMS group, 30 percent of these ‘resistant treatment’ subjects achieved remission during this second phase.

According to Dr. Mark George, of the Medical University of Southern Carolina, who led the multi-unit research team, these findings suggest that some patients might need as many as 5-6 weeks of daily rMTMS treatment.

Least Invasive Brain-Stimulation Procedure for Depression
Unlike Vagus Nerve Stimulation or Deep Brain Stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation does not require surgery or the implantation of electrodes. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it does not require seizures or sedation with anaesthesia. ECT is associated with greatly increased risk, as well as temporary memory impairment.

Safety: Risks and Possible Side Effects
According to the Mayo Clinic, transcranial stimulation may produce minor short-term side-effects. These are considered mild, and typically improve after the first week or two of treatment. Common mild side effects can include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
  • Tingling, spasms, or twitching of facial muscles
  • Light-headedness
  • Discomfort from noise during treatment

Uncommon side effects are rare, however they can include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania (particularly in people with bipolar disorder)
  • Hearing loss (due to inadequate ear protection during treatment

Before having the procedure, it is important to tell the doctor or healthcare provider if you are pregnant, (or thinking of becoming pregnant), and if you have any metal or implanted devices in your body. Transcranial therapy should not be used in such cases. You would also need to tell your doctor about any past injuries, history of seizures or mania, surgeries, and any other mental or physical health problems.

How does rTMS work with Clinical Nutrition Therapies?
Natural targeted nutritional therapies are very safe, and can be used alongside other therapies, however, prior to undergoing any treatment, always speak to the consulting doctor about any medications, over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements or vitamins you are using. As a courtesy, bring a typed list of what you are taking to your doctor’s appointment, being sure to include the brand name, the dosages, and how often you take them daily.

Does rTMS work for other Mental Health Conditions?
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation has been shown to be an effective tool for the treatment of several neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.8, 9, 10 It can also be used to treat conditions ranging from strokes to anorexia, tinnitus, migraines, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease. The department of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine is running study trials to investigate the use of rTMS in reducing activity in the areas of the brain responsible for ‘hearing’ voices. For further information, see:

According to the Mayo Clinic, transcranial magnetic stimulation is less likely to work if:

  • Psychosis (detachment from reality) is present
  • Your depression has lasted for four or more years
  • Previous electromagnetic therapy (ECT) has not improved depression symptoms

Way Forward:
At this point it is not known whether transcranial magnetic stimulation can be used to treat depression over long periods of time, or whether periodic ‘maintenance’ treatments are needed to prevent symptoms of depression from returning. As researchers continue to learn more about rTMC, and how it works, and the best areas of the brain to stimulate, the effectiveness rate of this therapy may improve.


1 Stephen T, Joubert N. The economic burden of mental health problems in Canada. Chronic Dis Can2001; 22:18-23.
2 Pincus HA, Pettit AR. The societal costs of chronic major depression. J. Clin Psychiatry 2001;62(Suppl 6):5-9.
3 American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th ed. Washington: the Association; 1994.
4 Klein E, Kolsky Y, Puyerovsky M, Koren D, Christyakov A, Feinsod M. Right prefrontal slow repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in schizophrenia: a double-blind sham-controlled pilot study. Biol Psychiatry 1999;46:154-4.
5 Gary Hasey, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.
6 Shim, Alex, “Brain Rewiring”, Macleans Magazine, 9 February 2009.
7 Nauert PhD, R.(2010). Electromagnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for Depression. Psyc Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2012, from
8 Klein E, Kolsky Y, Puyerovsky M, Koren D, Chistyakov A, Feinsod M, Right Prefrontal slow repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in schizophrenia: a double-blindsham-controlled pilot study. Biol Psychiatry1999;46:1451-4.
9 Hoffman RE, Hawkins KA, Geurorguieva R, Boutros NN, Rachid F, Carroll K, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation of left tempoparietal cortex and medication-resistant auditory hallucinations. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2003; 47:332-7.
10 Fitzgerald PB, Brown, TL, Marston NA, Daskalakis, ZJ, De Castella A, Kulkarni J. Transcranial magnetic stimulation in the treatment of depression: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2003; 60:1002-8.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Your body’s ability to deal with stress is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system monitors the environmental signals, interprets them, and organizes appropriate automatic behavioural responses.  It is composed of a specialized group of neurons that regulate cardiac muscle (the heart), smooth muscles (walls of the visceral organs and blood vessels) and glands.

The autonomic nervous system has two components that balance each other – Protection – the sympathetic nervous system(SNS) and Growth – the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). What is important to know is that both systems CANNOT operate optimally at the same time. We unavoidably restrict our growth behaviours when we shift into protective mode (stressed).

Protection – the HPA axis and the Immune system

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) turns UP your nervous system. It helps us handle what we perceive to be emergencies or threatening situations (can include emotional upset as well as physical stress) and is in charge of the flight-or-fight response. The SNS has two systems to protect the body: the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenals axis (HPA Axis) which responds to perceived external threats, and the Immune system which protects us from threats originating underneath the skin (like attack by virus or bacteria).

1. HPA axis

  • When the body perceives that there are no external threats, the HPA axis is inactive and growth flourishes.
  • When brain’s hypothalamus perceives an environmental threat, it engages the HPA axis by sending a chemical signal (CRE) to the pituitary gland.
  • The pituitary gland (master gland) is responsible for organizing the body to deal with the impending threat.
  • The pituitary gland sends a chemical signal (via ACTH) to the adrenals informing them to coordinate the body’s “fight or flight” response via stress hormones.
  • HPA axis interferes with both the immune system (protection) and growth systems:
  • HPA axis also interferes with our ability to think clearly
    • The processing of information in the forebrain (the center of executive reasoning and logic) is significantly slower than the reflex activity controlled by the hind brain
    • Adrenal stress hormones constrict the blood vessels in the forebrain reducing its ability to function
    • Stress hormones also repress activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the center of conscious, volitional action)
    • In an emergency, the vascular flow and hormones serve to activate the hindbrain (source of reflexes)
    • Stress hormones inhibit neuronal growth, leading to depression. In chronically depressed people the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are physically shrunken.
      • When the brain’s stress machinery goes into overdrive, it leads to depression.

2. Immune system

  • When the immune system is mobilized, it can consume much of the body’s energy supply.
  • Adrenal hormones secreted by the HPA axis actively repress the action of the immune system

Growth – the Vagus Nerve

The parasympathetic nervous system turns DOWN the nervous system and helps us to be calm. It is most active when the body is at rest and not threatened in any way. This division is sometimes called the ‘resting-and-digesting’ system since it is chiefly concerned with promoting normal digestion, with elimination of feces and urine, and with conserving body energy. It promotes relaxation, rest, sleep, and drowsiness by slowing our heart rate, slowing our breathing, constricts the pupils of our eyes, increases the production of saliva in our mouth, and allows us to digest our food and grow.

The vagus nerve is the key instrument of the parasympathetic system. Beginning in the medulla oblongata, the nerve travels to all of the organs of the body sending signals to and from the brain. The two previous posts provide lots of information about the vagus nerve and how to activate the relaxation response. Post 1 – The Vagus Nerve, Post 2 – Activating the Vagus Nerve.

Importance of sleep

A recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and are having difficulties sleeping (because they are unable to turn off their HPA axis). Chronic sleep loss can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system’s power, reports the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.[i]

Some important tips for getting a good night’s sleep and allowing the PNS time to heal and relax are:

  1. Keep a regular sleep schedule – set a regular time to go to sleep, and to wake up. After dinner, when you are relaxing on the sofa, try not to fall asleep and then wake up late in the night, get up and do something mildly stimulating. On the weekend, catch up on your sleep with naps.
  2. Naturally regulate your light/dark cycles – increase light exposure during the day by taking walks outside in the light, use a light therapy box in the winter to offset SAD symptoms. In the evening, turn off the television and electronic devices in your bedroom and close the blinds so outside lights don’t disturb you.
  3. Create a relaxing bedtime routine – keep noise down, keep the temperature cool (adjust your thermostat to automatically drop several degrees during the night), and sleep in a comfortable bed.
  4. Eat right and get regular exercise – stay away from really heavy meals late at night, avoid alcohol before bed, cut down on caffeine and avoid drinking too much liquid before bed. Having fruit several hours after dinner or before bed puts the system into ‘detox and cleanse mode’ which turns on the pancreas and liver and may keep you awake. If you are hungry before bed, try a light snack of a small piece of turkey or chicken breast, or avocado, or some soaked nuts with some plain yogurt.
  5. Get anxiety and stress in check – try the activation of vagus nerve techniques in the previous post to turn on the PNS.
Organ Sympathetic   Stimulation/Stress Parasympathetic   Stimulation/Relax
Heart rate Increased rate and force of heartbeat Decreases rate; slow and steady
Lungs Dilates bronchioles Constricts bronchioles
Gastrointestinal   tract    
Motility Decreased activity of digestive system Increased slow muscles mobility (peristalsis) and amount of   secretion by digestive system
Sphincters (closing   valves) Constriction Relaxation
Secretion Reduced Increased
Gallbladder and bile   ducts Relaxed Contracted
Bladder/Kidneys Constricts sphincters (prevents voiding) Relaxes sphincters (allows voiding)
Exocrene glands   (glands with external secretion)    
Salivary glands Slight secretion Copious secretion
Digestive glands Reduced secretions Copious secretions containing many enzymes
Sweat glands Secretion No effect
Pancreatic glands Reduced secretion Copious secretion[ii]

Today, we live in a stressed-out world and an increasing body of research suggests that our hyper-vigilant lifestyle is severely impacting the health of our bodies. Daily stressors and emotional upsets are constantly activating the HPA axis causing emotional and physical disharmony that cause major illness such as cardio vascular issues, depression, digestive issues, glucose/insulin resistance. Further, these stressors are not released from the body (as they would be in a fight or flight situation) and can build up to become chronic fears and concerns.

A dynamic balance needs to exist between the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system, so that they can continuously make fine adjustments. As a society we need to find new ways to release our fears and stressors and add relaxation time and techniques to our daily life.


[ii] and Marieb, Elaine N., Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, p. 269.

Additional References

Lipton, Bruce. Biology of Belief. Hay House: 2005. Pp. 114-119.

Activating the Vagus Nerve

For more than 15 years, stimulation of the vagus nerve has been used as a treatment for epilepsy and depression.  The Canadian Health Protection Branch approved Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) in March 1997, with special focus on epilepsy patients over the age of 12 whose partial onset seizures are not well controlled by medication. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has also approved VNS for the treatment of both epilepsy and depression. It appears that depression is a condition that is common amongst people with epilepsy. The February 2000 issue of Annals of Neurology reported that older adults who are clinically depressed are six times as likely to have a seizure as their peers. This suggests that a common factor may be underlying both the cause of depression and seizures.  (Interestingly, the ‘diet to stop seizures’ is the ‘ketogenic diet’ and this same diet seems to be implicated in treating concussion, and even serious mood disorders such as schizophrenia).

In the October 2005 the Annals of Neurology, ColumbiaUniversity researchers found that depression and suicide attempts may be due to underlying neurochemical pathways common to epilepsy development.

What are the benefits of stimulating the Vagus Nerve?

As you may remember from our previous blog post, the vagal nerve is the main instrument of the parasympathetic nervous system. Its branches begin in the medulla oblongata and travel deep into the body sending signals to, but mostly from the organs (especially the gut).

There are several locations where the vagal nerve comes out to accessible zones for stimulation:

  • Muscle that constricts the pharynx (rami pharyngei)
  • Behind the eye balls (radix oculomotoria)
  • Hard and soft palate (nervus palatinus)
  • In the surface of the ear canal and lobe (ramus auricularis)
  • Tongue (ramus lingualis)[i]

When properly stimulated the Vagal Nerve can:

  • Turn on neurogenesis, helping our brains sprout new brain cells.
  • Rapidly turn off the stress, hyper-arousal, and fight/flight via the relaxation response.
  • Sharpen our memories.
  • Fight inflammatory disease.
  • Help you resist high blood pressure.
  • Block the hormone cortisol and other oxidizing agents that age and deteriorate the brain and body
  • Block systemic (body-wide) inflammation – a major factor behind aging and poor health.
  • Help us overcome depression and anxiety.
  • Help us sleep better.
  • Raise levels of human growth hormone.
  • Help us overcome insulin resistance.
  • Turn down allergic responses.
  • Lower chances of getting stress and tension headaches.
  • Help spare and grow our mitochondria- this is a key to maintaining optimal energy levels and not harming our DNA and RNA.
  • Affect our overall ability to live longer, healthier, and more energetic lives.

Activating the Vagal Nerve with Machinery:

Vagus Nerve Stimulation – pacemaker-like neurostimulation

Vagal Nerve Stimulation involves inserting a pacemaker-like nerve stimulator in your chest connected to the left side of your vagus nerve. (See animation and more info about the procedure:

Every two to five minutes, the vagus nerve is stimulated, causing one’s diaphragm to contract. The device costs between $15 and $20 K, and it is not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), however some costs may come out of a hospital’s budget. There is a long waiting list to get approved for this procedure. The following centres in Ontario are able to perform the procedure:  Hospital for Sick Children, St. Michael’s Hospital, TorontoWesternHospital, Ottawa GeneralHospital, Ottawa Children’s Hospital, Kingston  General Hospital and London Health Sciences Centre-University Campus.

Activating the Vagus Nerve without Machinery

Vagus nerve stimulation can be turned on easily though a number of breathing and relaxation techniques:

  • Deep/slow belly breathing.
  • ‘OM’ Chanting
  • Cold water face immersion after exercise
  • Filling the mouth with saliva and submerging your tongue to trigger a hyper-relaxing vagal response.

Deep Breathing
To practice deep breathing, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Remember to:

  • Breathe slowly.
  • Breathe deeply, from the belly.
  • Exhale longer than you inhale.

You can proceed as follows: take a deep inhalation into your belly (i.e. expanding your diaphragm) to the count of five, pause, and then exhale slowly through a small hole in your mouth. While at rest most people take about 10 to 14 breaths per minute. To get into parasympathetic/ relaxation/ healing mode it is ideal to reduce your breath to 5 to 7 times per minute. Exhaling through your mouth instead of nose makes your breathing more of a conscious process, and helps you to observe your breath more easily.[ii]

As you reduce your breaths per minute and get into parasympathetic mode, your muscles will relax, dropping your worries and anxieties. The oxygen supply to your body’s cells increases and this helps produce endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones. Tibetan monks have been practicing ‘conscious breathing’ for decades, but there is nothing mysterious about it. You can enhance your experience by imagining that you inhale IN love, and exhale OUT gratitude. These ancient techniques also will improve memory, fight depression, lower blood pressure, or heart rate, and boost your immune systems — and it’s free!

‘OM’ Chanting
An interesting study was performed by the International Journal of Yoga in 2011, where ‘OM’ chanting was compared with pronunciation of ‘SSS’ as well as a rest state to determine if chanting is more stimulatory to the vagus nerve. The study found that the chanting actually was more effective than either the ‘sss’ pronunciation or the rest state.

Effective ‘OM’ chanting is associated with the experience of a vibration sensation around the ears and throughout the body. It is expected that such a sensation is also transmitted through the auricular branch of the vagus nerve and will produce limbic (HPA axis) deactivation.[iii]

How to chant?
Hold the vowel (o) part of the ‘OM’ for 5 seconds then continue into the consonant (m) part for the next 10 seconds. Continue chanting for 10 minutes. Conclude with some deep breathing and end with gratitude.

Cold Water
Physical exercise causes an increase in sympathetic activity (HPA axis – fight/flight, stress response), along with parasympathetic withdrawal (resting, digesting, healing, immune system), resulting in higher heart rates (HR). Studies have found that cold water face immersion appears to be a simple and efficient means of immediately accelerating post-exercise parasympathetic reactivation via the vagus nerve, stimulating the reduction of heart rate, motility of the intestines, and turns on the immune system. It is also effective in a non-exercise environment to activate the vagus nerve.

In cold-water face immersion, subjects remained seated and bend their head forward into a basin of cold water. The face is immersed so that the forehead, eyes, and at least two-thirds of both cheeks were submerged. Water temperature was kept at 10–12°C.[iv]

A variation on this technique, called The Dive Reflex, has been developed by Steve Mensing and many people online have found it very valuable for relieving stress and depression. Here are the details:

Increased Salivation
The calmer the mind and the deeper the relaxation, the easier the stimulation of salivation is. When the mouth is able to produce copious amounts of saliva, you know that the Vagus Nerve has been stimulated and your body is in the parasympathetic mode.

To stimulate salivation, try relaxing and reclining in a chair and imagine a juicy lemon. As your mouth fills with saliva, just rest your tongue in this bath (if this doesn’t happen, just fill your mouth with a small amount of warm water and rest your tongue in this bath. Just the practice of relaxing will stimulate the secretion of saliva). Now relax further, and feel your hands, feet, hips, back of the neck and head all relaxing. Breathe deeply into this feeling and stay here as long as you can.

There are many other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and transfer your body into the healing, digesting and resting phase. Start with these suggestions and you may find that it becomes much easier to rest and relax!


[iii] Bangalore G Kalyani, Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan-Jun; 4(1):3-6.