Brain & Nervous System Function

Your brain and nervous system control every cell, tissue, organ and organ system in your entire body. Why is this important for you? A better functioning brain means a better quality of life. The way …  

Nutrition & Metabolic Function

Ever get a call from your doctor telling you your lab results were “normal”, only to be left wondering, “Then how come I still feel so bad?” You’re not alone. And it’s time for you to get some …  

Body Performance & Pain Free Motion

What an amazing thing this body of ours is: muscles, joints and a frame designed to painlessly move and resist gravity while protecting our vital organs. The amount of healing your body can …  

Ready To Get Your Health Back?

You’ve come to the right place.  Whether you suffer from FATIGUE, INSOMNIA, WEIGHT ISSUES or ANXIETY, Dr. Engelbart is skilled at finding the underlying causes and natural solutions to help you conquer these issues.

Or maybe you want to know how you can feel your best and be the healthiest YOU you can be.  Fantastic!  Dr. Engelbart is passionate about prevention and being proactive so you don’t have to suffer from the “normal” issues the majority of our population suffers from.  This is your resource for PEAK HEALTH and PERFORMANCE.

Feel free to browse the site, and remember you can always CONTACT Dr. Engelbart directly to set up a consultation to find out what to do to get started, no matter where you live.  So don’t delay any longer.  It’s time to experience Your Top LifeTM!

Confused about GLUTEN?

I can’t blame you. There’s a lot of talk, hype and misinformation out there about gluten these days. Some people think that gluten-free living is just a fad that will go the way of low-fat dieting, margarine and leeches (and good riddens to you all!). Others believe that gluten is the most evil of food-villians, and that going gluten-free is THE key to digestive health, weight management, and health utopia. To confuse things further, the researches who discovered non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS, aka gluten intolerance) published a study in 2011that says that non-celiac gluten sensitivity doesn’t really exist (more on this below). Let’s look at the facts and get a handle on this subject. Because let’s face it, I don’t want to avoid gluten if I don’t have to and I know you don’t either.

First of all…what in the world is gluten?

If you ask my brother, he’ll tell you that, “it’s the stuff that makes food taste good”.  And indeed, it is an ingredient that adds thickness, texture, and let’s face it, taste to our favorite foods: pizza, breads, pastas, baked goods, pastries and beer. It’s also commonly hidden in non-bread-like foods like salad dressings, soups, energy bars and even in some vitamins and medications.

Gluten is the complex protein found in wheat (including whole grain wheat, spelt, wheat bran), rye and barley.  Almost all oats contain gluten due to cross contamination, and some studies and laboratory tests suggest that the gluten-like characteristics in oats, corn, rice, and even some unlikely foods such as coffee and chocolate could mimic the properties of gluten in some people, a process known as cross-reactivity.

Is gluten intolerance the same thing as celiac disease?

No, it’s not.  Most people have heard the term “gluten” in conjunction with celiac disease, a hereditary (meaning someone else in your bloodline has it) autoimmune (meaning that your immune system is attacking your own body like it is public enemy number 1) disease that specifically causes damage to the small intestines.  The most common symptoms of celiac disease are digestion disturbances (stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc.), but it can affect other areas as well and cause symptoms as vague as headaches, fatigue and joint pain. Some people may have only minor symptoms or no symptoms at all.  Long term celiac disease can lead to intestinal cancer, severe malabsorption that results in anemia. osteoporosis and muscle wasting, and other autoimmune diseases that then begin to destroy the cells of the skin, brain or other organs.  This disease is nothing to mess with.

You can be screened for celiac disease by a simple blood test called Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA).  This test will be positive in about 98% of patients with celiac disease who are eating a diet containing gluten.  There are a few other tests that your doctor can order to make the diagnosis in the 2% that the tTG-IgA test doesn’t catch, and intestinal biopsy is still considered the gold standard to diagnose celiac disease.  But the tTG-IgA test is the best place to start.  Even though celiac disease affects less than 1% of the population, you should absolutely have the tTG-IgA test run if you have frequent or recurring digestion disturbances and/or if you have celiac disease in your family history.

But let’s say you’ve had this test run and it shows that it’s highly unlikely that you have celiac disease.  Congratulations!  But don’t reach for that sourdough baguette just yet.  There are a couple of other things you need to know about gluten first.

A new villain on the scene

Back in 2011, there was a double-blinded, randomized, placebo controlled study that found gluten could cause gastrointestinal symptoms in patients without celiac disease.  This gave major credibility to the idea that even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten is still the likely villain that is causing your tummy to hurt, and also led to the upswing in the gluten-free food business.  The research team decided to reproduce the study with a few changes, and the new study published in 2013 in the journal Gastroenterology found that gluten probably wasn’t the culprit after all.  For all you who suffer from tummy problems, we’ve got a new villain on our hands, and it goes by the acronym FODMAPs.

FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, and what you need to know if your tummy is frequently unhappy is that you may have a problem digesting these carbohydrates.  FODMAPs are found in wheat, garlic, artichokes, dairy products and some fruits and legumes.  Most people can digest them just fine, but for those with chronic digestive issues such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which affects about 20% of Americans), FODMAPs can become fermented and produce gas, leading to a host of other symptoms.  If you suffer from chronic digestive disorders, give a low FODMAP diet a try.  And then I would urge you to continue to work with a doctor to find the true cause of your illness.  Many digestive disorders, including IBS have an underlying cause of INFLAMMATION along with MICROBIAL IMBALANCE (I’ll write more on these in future posts), and these causes can be targeted and treated.  You should also notice that even though gluten might not be as big of a culprit for causing stomach symptoms in those who don’t have celiac disease, wheat still contains FODMAPs.  So put the baguette down.

What if I don’t suffer from stomach problems?  I’m off the hook right?

Not necessarily.  Gluten is still considered pro-inflammatory.  This means that it has the propensity to cause inflammation in most people.  Inflammation is the cause or major contributor to every disease known to mankind.  In addition, gluten is linked to a host of auto-immune diseases.  It especially has a propensity to affect the thyroid (as in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) and the brain (affecting conditions such as Parkinson’s, Lou-Gherig’s, chronic vertigo, and many other neurological diseases), and has also been known to affect the pancreas (leading to diabetes) and the skin and mucosal membranes (causing additional allergies and chronic skin irritations).  If you have been diagnosed with any of these diseases I would urge you to go gluten-free NOW.   My colleagues and I can personally attest to the remarkable recovery of many, many patients with severe illnesses after adhering to a strict gluten-free diet (if you don’t want to go gluten-free without knowing for sure, read the next section).

Which begs the question…wouldn’t it be good to know IN ADVANCE if gluten is accelerating an autoimmune response in your body BEFORE you are diagnosed with a formidable and deadly disease that stole your life away?  What if you could take a PROACTIVE stance and do an easy blood test to see if gluten is indeed a friend or foe for you personally?  What if you could know for sure?

The ONLY way to know for sure is to test (with the right test)

Thankfully the science behind lab testing is catching up with our ailments.  There is an easy way to know if you should avoid gluten like the plague or if you can chomp merrily away on your favorite foods, and it’s done by a simple blood test.  Cyrex Labs offers the most comprehensive look at your immune system’s reaction to gluten, and can also test for the cross-reactivity response from other foods so that you can know for sure if you should stay away from it or  if you can pick up that baguette and enjoy it without consequences (at least from the gluten it contains).  This test must be ordered by a doctor, but it can be performed in just about any part of the country.  For more information, contact me directly.

You should have this test done if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Stomach upset, bloating, gastric reflux, diarrhea, constipation, and/or nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint and/or bone pain
  • Headaches
  • Skin conditions
  • Weight Gain
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to Focus or Concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and/or Mind Racing
  • Progressive Muscle Weakness
  • Numbness and Tingling
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Autism and other Learning/Developmental Disorders
  • Autoimmune Diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Bladder Problems

Can’t I just eliminate it for a few weeks and see if I get better?

Removing gluten from your diet for a period of time and then adding it back in is called a “challenge test” or “elimination diet”.  While there is some merit to this method, and it certainly won’t hurt you, please realize that it is NOT conclusive for a couple of reasons.

Elimination diets are difficult to accomplish because of all the different sources of gluten and cross-contamination.  Also, it could take months, or in some cases years for the symptoms you are experiencing to completely go away, so doing a challenge test for a couple of weeks won’t necessarily give you the . Auto-immune symptoms tend to wax and wane anyway, and there could be hours or days between the trigger and the symptoms.   So the best thing to do is the conclusive test.

My own story:

I love being healthy and I love being proactive about my health.  And while I’m not perfect, I do my best to practice what I preach (especially now that I’m older and wiser…and a mom!).

I don’t have any type of chronic digestive disorder or symptoms that would have led me to believe that I could be gluten intolerant.  But as a functional neurologist, I learn and study about nervous system diseases, thyroid disorders and autoimmunity all the time, and I have treated some patients who have suffered with very severe illnesses.  The ones that could have been prevented made the most impact on me.  What if they could have known?  Would they have chosen to change their diet 5 or 10 years earlier if they could have prevented the suffering they were enduring in the present?

I know that in addition to injuries and extreme stress, autoimmune conditions can be triggered by hormonal surges and swings, such as during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause (which is one of the reasons why autoimmune conditions are so much more prevalent among women than men).  So when I got pregnant at the age of 39, I decided it was time for me to get tested for gluten intolerance.  And lo and behold, even though I never had an outward symptom related to ingesting gluten, my immune system was certainly reacting every time I ate it.  I did the cross-reactivity test too and found out that my immune system reacts to dairy as well.  So because of these test results, I am gluten-free and dairy-free, and I’m confident I am preventing some nasty future consequences.  I do, very occasionally, “cheat” and have a treat (and also take supplements to minimize the inflammatory and immune effects).  And I still never have any symptoms when I do…although maybe it  would  make it easier to stay away from these foods if I did have symptoms.

But what brings peace of mind is knowing what I am preventing, and that I’m not robbing from my future to have a quick endorphin fix in the present.  For me, it was testing that made the difference.  If I didn’t know for sure, I would be eating my way into a world of hurt.  And knowing the test results makes it easier to do what’s best for my body, and many of my patients say the same thing.

I’d love to hear some comments from those of you whose symptoms decreased radically when you went gluten-free, so post away!  And contact me or your local Functional Medicine doctor when you are ready to do the test!



Need More Sleep? Get Rid of the “Screen Blues”

Can’t sleep? Are your screens (computer, phone, tablet) to blame? Here’s a hint: if they are on and you are looking at them at night, they are indeed a culprit.

Why? Because they emit primarily blue light that tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime. This blue light decreases your melatonin production and wrecks your sleep. If you are looking at your screens every night, you have almost surely developed insomnia by now. But there is a (free) way you can change the blue lights on your screen into the more melatonin and sleep-friendly red hues that will help you to get your ZZZ’s:

Of course the best solution for consistently sleeping like a baby is to TURN OFF YOUR SCREENS every night at least 2 hours before your sleep time. But I know the thought of that sends you screen-addicts out there just a little mad.  So try the the software.

You can read more about how to get consistently healthy sleep here:

Insomnia-Simple and Functional Tips That Work

For Better Health, Chew On This

Most Health Experts Agree…

CHRONIC INFLAMMATION is Public Enemy Number One. Diseases that cause the highest death rates (such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and conditions affecting the lungs, kidneys, and liver) along with the ongoing ailments that folks suffer from day in and day out (headaches, arthritis, digestive disorders, dementia, nerve and muscle degeneration, and skin diseases, to name a few) are linked to chronic inflammation. When the immune system is overtaxed and asked to put out fires that are constantly raging, or if there are fires on too many fronts, it can lead to delayed healing, pain and suffering, permanent tissue damage, and death. So it behooves us all to find the root of chronic inflammation in our own bodies, and squelch it at its source (and not merely cover up the symptoms with prescription and over-the-counter medications).

So where’s your inflammation coming from? There are a few usual suspects that I’ll list here:
• Your Diet (sugar and other refined carbohydrates, charred food, lack of green veggies, gluten, dairy and other allergens)

• Your Environment (pollution, toxic home cleaners and personal care items, and even your negative thoughts)

• Leaky Gut

• Belly Fat

• Your Mouth

    Wait…What? My Mouth?

That’s right, your oral cavity. Each of the categories listed above deserve their own explanation, and we’ll get to that in other posts. But for this article we are going to focus on the mouth as a primary source of chronic inflammation.

Periodontal disease and chronic gum infections have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease by about a gazillion studies (rough estimate). But new research has taken it a step further and proven that the pathogens (bad bacteria and other critters) in your mouth that are causing your gums to be swollen and bloody are also moving into your bloodstream and causing your arteries to clog up and choke. For the science-minded among you, here are a few studies to check out :

J Med Microbiol 09:58:1568-1575
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 11; 108
Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 05; 25:e17-e18
J Bacteriol 10;192(12):3024-3032

How can this be, you may ask? How has my mouth betrayed me? Or maybe the question should be, how have you betrayed your mouth?

The mouth has a rich and dynamic blood supply, and the skin in and around the gums is very fragile. Your immune system can handle the occasional onslaught, but if you have chronic gum/periodontal disease(chronic inflammation) , the persistent bleeding provides quick and ready access for the pathogens to have direct entry into your blood stream, your arteries, and your heart.

    So What Can You Do? Put These Tips Into Practice:

1. Improve your dental hygiene.
Brush twice a day and floss once a day. I recommend using a dental floss with tea tree oil, and rinsing your toothbrush with hydrogen peroxide before each time you brush. Tee tree oil is a natural antibacterial, and diluted with water it makes a great mouth wash and gargle. Hydrogen peroxide will kill the nasty germs that are lurking on your toothbrush. Another advantage: H2O2 whitens teeth.

2. Cut the sugar and sugary drinks.
Streptococcus mutans is the name of the bacterium that causes dental cavities (caries). It’s the culprit that forms the plaque that attracts microorganisms to attach to the surface of your teeth and gums. And just in case you’re wondering, antibiotics can’t touch these bacterium because the biofilm (plaque) that forms on your teeth protects it (which is why antibiotics are ineffective for preventing and treating cavities). Guess what the S. mutans uses to make this biofilm…drum roll please…it’s sucrose, a.k.a. sugar.

Sugar also changes the pH of the biofilm, which causes a demineralization and breakdown in tooth enamel and underlying dentin. When you cut out sugar you starve S. mutans. Buh-bye cavities. Buh-bye inflammation.

But here’s the real kicker for your ticker: S. mutans has also been implicated in heart disease. It is the most prevalent bacterial species found in the artery cell walls of patients who undergo cardiovascular surgeries, and S. mutans infection is a leading cause of endocarditis (heart valve inflammation). So the bacteria in your mouth, fed by sugar, goes directly into your blood stream via your inflamed, bloody gums, and causes your heart to become diseased. Cut the sugar, starve the bad bacteria, save your heart, and possibly your life.

3. Chew on THIS:
Another major step you can take to cut your risk of chronic inflammation and all its tentacles is to use an oral probiotic. You know by now that I am enamored with probiotics, or good bacteria, and all the great things they do for our bodies. Our bodies have more bacteria than cells by far, and if it is good bacteria that you are sporting, chances are you are healthy.

Probiotics are important for digestive health, a strong immune system, hormonal balance, detoxification, and the list goes on and on. But did you know that probiotics are important for your mouth and upper respiratory and upper GI system as well? So, while it’s important to swallow your probiotics, preferably one that is enteric-coated to survive the stomach acid and make it into your intestines where it can do the most good, I also recommend chewing a probiotic every day. This allows the good bacteria to infiltrate your mouth and sinus cavities, as well as your upper GI tract. Clinically, I have found that my patients of all ages (children, adults and seniors) who are diligent with their probiotic intake enjoy these benefits:

• Fewer cavities, gum disease, halitosis (bad breath), and scraping and drilling when they go to their dentists for their regular cleanings and check- ups.

• Fewer sinus infections and other upper respiratory infections. Bad bacteria can’t set up shop where good bacteria are prolific. The good bacteria also regulate the pH in the mouth and sinus cavities, and help to undo some of the damage from the acid that we come into contact with when we eat and drink during the day.

• Less gastric reflux/heartburn/GERD and decreased GI symptoms such as nausea. The good bacteria help to squelch the acidity and can give almost instantaneous relief.

• Lower levels of C Reactive Protein as measured by blood work. C Reactive Protein is a major indicator of inflammation within the body. Decreased chronic inflammation can translate into less pain and discomfort, a healthy heart, clearer skin, a calm tummy, and better brain health.

So What Should You Do NOW?

I’ll tell you what I do and what I recommend to my patients: get a box of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics, STAT (see EssentialFormulas.com for more information)! If you’ve never taken them before, check with your nutritionist or functional medicine doctor, and start slowly. There are times that high dosing comes in handy, but talk to your doctor first.

The maintenance dosage I recommend is 1 pill for every 50 pounds of body weight*. You’ll want to make sure you chew at least one of them, before bed, after you brush your teeth. For example, what I do personally is swallow 2 and chew 1. If you are 200 pounds, your maintenance dosage is to swallow 3 and chew 1 each night before bed.

*There’s an added benefit to consuming more probiotics the more weight you are carrying, because research has shown that good bacteria is associated with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). Taking the right probiotics can actually help you to lose weight. But that’s the subject of another blog.

So until we meet again, keep the inflammation low and the probiotic count high, and be blessed, healthy and happy.

Dr. Engelbart

Boost Your Kid’s Immunity

Fighting Back-To-School Bugs

The Fat-Burning, Brain-Optimizing, Energy-Producing Way to Start Your Day

Are you:

  • Frustrated with your lack of energy during the day?
  • Struggling to lose weight?
  • Finding yourself desperately wanting a nap after a meal?
  • Having problems with focus and short-term memory?
  • Craving sugar, foods and beverages you know are not good for you?

If these problems describe you, you most likely have DYSGLYCEMIA (blood sugar regulation problems).  And as it turns out, how you start your day largely determines how your blood sugar and insulin levels will respond over the next 24 hours.  Follow my 3 simple tips every morning, and you will set yourself up with a fat-burning, brain-optimizing, energy-to-spare advantage.

AND these same tips will help you lower your cholesterol and triglycerides, and prevent you from developing Type II Diabetes.  Read on.

Let’s take a brief moment to review how blood sugar (glucose) and insulin work.  Your body converts the carbohydrates you eat into glucose, which is one of the main sources of fuel for the cells in your body and brain (oxygen being the other critical fuel component).  The pancreas excretes a hormone called insulin, which transports the glucose from the bloodstream into the cell where it can be used to make energy.

When you eat complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats, your blood sugar levels rise gradually, and your pancreas has an easier time balancing how much insulin is needed to keep it stable.  But if you flood your body with simple carbohydrates (sugars, breads, pastas, and even fruits), the pancreas goes into high gear and excretes a surge of insulin.  This causes your blood sugar levels to abruptly fall, and can leave you feeling fuzzy-headed, irritable, and exhausted (typical symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar).

There are other problems with these insulin surges.  For one, they are a signal to the cell that there is plenty of glucose for energy, so it’s time to start storing.  In other words, insulin surges trigger the body to start storing fat.

The other problem is that an insulin surge will drop your blood sugar to a low level, causing you to feel hungry again, and triggering a craving for something that is high in simple sugars.  And then the process starts all over again.

After many episodes of this vicious cycle, your cells stop responding to insulin altogether.  This causes your blood pressure to rise, and your triglyceride and cholesterol levels to soar.  This is what is known as Insulin Resistance, or “Syndrome X”.

If you refuse to do something to stop all this madness at this phase, you are sure to develop Type II Diabetes.

So what should you do to stop the fat storage, stop feeling crummy, and get your energy back?  It’s simple, really:  Start your day by balancing your blood sugar.

If the vicious cycle never starts, you won’t have to fight an uphill battle the rest of the day (or the rest of your life).

Here’s what you do:

  1. Make sure you eat within 1 hour of waking up (even if you don’t feel like it)
  2. Your breakfast should contain mainly high quality protein sources
  3. Don’t have caffeine on an empty stomach

If you suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or insulin resistance, it’s likely that you don’t feel like eating anything when you wake up.  Most of my patients tell me that eating first thing in the morning is the last thing they want to do.  They’d rather just have a cup of coffee or a glass of juice (or even worse, soda), and wait a couple of hours until they feel hungry.

This is one of the worst things you can do.  Juices, sodas, and even coffee will spike your blood sugar levels, requiring an exaggerated insulin response.  As your blood sugar plummets, your brain is sapped of the fuel it needs to do its many jobs for you (paying attention, remembering where you put your keys, staying awake, etc.).

So eat something within an hour of awakening to stave off that blood sugar crash.  But you can’t eat just anything.  A breakfast high in carbohydrates (cereals, toast, bagel, juices, fruit, etc.) will also send your blood sugar to the sky, and insulin has to come to the rescue again.

Make sure you have a high-quality protein meal to start your day right. You don’t have to eat a large portion, but you do need to eat some protein within 1 hour of awakening to set your blood sugar and insulin on the right track.  Some good options are:

  • egg(s) or egg whites
  • turkey bacon
  • cheese (preferably raw)
  • yogurt supplemented with branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) or protein powder
  • protein shake

Even a spoonful of natural peanut butter is better than nothing.

Of course I always recommend foods that are organic, minimally processed, and as fresh as you can find.

Another important note:  these recommendations are JUST AS IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN AS THEY ARE FOR ADULTS, especially if your child has developmental delays, learning disorders, ADD/ADHD, or struggles with childhood obesity.  Many of the habits that we battle as adults start when we are young.

And remember that your brain needs a steady source of glucose–not wildly fluctuating sugar levels–in order for it to do its job.  So these recommendations are critical for anyone struggling with depression, anxiety, insomnia and any other neurological disorder.

There you have it:  3 simple tips to help you lose weight, have more energy, and have better brain function. While this certainly is not an exhaustive list on how to balance your blood sugar, it’s a great way to start.

I can’t wait to hear from those of you who put this into practice and reap the rewards!





Insomnia-Simple and Functional Tips That Work

Caution:  Lack of Sleep Has Been Proven to be Hazardous to Your Health

 You’re tired.  Exhausted, in fact.  All you can think about is the time when you can crawl into your bed after a long day and wait for the blissful slumber to overtake you.  But for millions of us, this process is not as easy as it should be.  30-40% of adults suffer from insomnia, and find it difficult to get to sleep, stay asleep, or both.

Sleep is a complex function.  Rather than being a time when your brain simply shuts down, it is a time of active regeneration for both brain and body.  It is a time when our memories consolidate, when our cells regenerate, and when our brain makes sense of what it experienced during our wake hours.

Sleep deprivation should not be taken lightly.  It has been used throughout history as an effective method of torture and punishment, and research has shown that prolonged sleep deprivation can literally drive a person crazy.

Lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to fatigue.  It has been linked to weight gain, inability to cope with stress, delayed healing, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, compromised immune system function, and neurotransmitter imbalances which can cause depression and altered perception. 

Now that you understand that insomnia isn’t just annoying and inconvenient, but actually dangerous, I think it’s time to review some important tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.

The Magic of 90 Minutes

 Researchers refer to “sleep architecture” as the pattern of sleep cycles that one completes during the night (or during a nap).  Each cycle lasts 90 minutes, and consists of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we do our active dreaming, and 4 stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep, where we experience deep sleep.  In order to enjoy restorative sleep, each 90 minute cycle must be completed.  If a 90 minute cycle is interrupted for any reason, you will not feel adequately rested.

For this reason, many sage individuals conclude that if they get 6 hours of non-interrupted sleep, they feel better, more rested, and more awake than if they get 7 hours of sleep.  There are even people who sleep 3 hours each night and then take a 1.5 hour nap during the day, and claim they feel fantastic, energetic, and extremely well-rested.

My goal here isn’t to get you to try the 3 hour/night thing, but I am advising that you set your wake/ sleep clock to a 90 minute interval (7.5 hours seem to be the most popular with my patients).  Research shows that even if you get less sleep overall, if you complete the 90 minute cycle, you will feel better, heal better, consolidate memories more efficiently, cope with stress better, regulate blood sugar better…you get the idea.

Get Into a Routine

Doing the same things at the same time each night before you go to bed literally trains your brain to predict that sleep time is approaching, and helps you to fall asleep fast.  If you want to move from insomniac to sleep aficionado, here’s what your goals should be:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  Make sure your sleep time allows you to complete a 90 minute sleep cycle.
  • About an hour before bedtime, go through a systematic routine that you repeat every night.  It might look something like this:
    • 9:30 pm :  Sip a cup of SleepyTime tea (warm or cold) while you take your nighttime supplements (there are a vast degree of options here, and best to have your functional doctor customize a program for you, like I do for my patients)
    • 9:40 pm:  Change into jammies, wash face, brush teeth
    • 9:50 pm:  Journal
    • 10:05 pm:  Read a book or magazine
    • 10:30pm:  Lights out

 Pretty simple, right?  The key is to KEEP it simple, and repeat it every night, until it becomes habit.  This can take up to 90 days, so be patient and consistent.

Here is what should NOT be in your nightly routine:

  • Caffeine and other stimulant consumption

 I shouldn’t have to expound on this very much, as it should be quite clear that stimulants will interrupt your sleep.  Even if you don’t think you are susceptible to caffeine’s stimulant effects, if you suffer from insomnia, you should leave it out of your nightly  routine.  In fact, I recommend you stay away from caffeine in all forms (coffee, caffeinated teas, chocolate) and other stimulants such as B vitamins, and herbal stimulants (such as ginseng) for 6 hours before your bedtime.  Your stimulant consumption should be exclusively in the daytime hours when you are trying to stay awake.

  • Exercise

While exercise has been shown to help with insomnia and should absolutely be a part of your DAYtime routine, if you exercise in the evening or nighttime hours, you are messing with your circadian rhythm (i.e. your natural wake-sleep cycle).  The adrenal hormone cortisol seems to be the main player involved.

Our cortisol levels should be highest first thing in the morning, and then gradually decrease throughout the day, and be lowest at nighttime to allow us to fall asleep easily.  During and immediately after exercise, cortisol is released (this is one of the ways exercise revs our metabolism).  Several hours after exercise, cortisol levels decrease significantly.  So exercising at nighttime can cause a cortisol spike that has a high probability of  interrupting your sleep.  But exercising earlier in the day regulates cortisol levels appropriately, draining you of excess stress hormone, and allowing you to sleep like a baby.  Your workout routine should end a minimum of 3 hours before your bedtime.

  • Alcohol

Even though alcohol is commonly used as a sedative to help many get to sleep, it can greatly degrade your quality of your sleep and mess up your sleep cycle, especially in the second half of the night.  Alcohol is a brain depressant, meaning it decreases the function of specific parts of the brain, altering neurotransmitters that are involved in sleep regulation (namely serotonin and norepinephrine).  Scientists confirm that alcohol interferes with our sleep architecture, or the balance of our sleep patterns and brain waves.

Alcohol also impacts our blood sugar levels.  Unstable blood sugar is a common cause of insomnia, and in turn, lack of good quality sleep affects our blood sugar regulation—a vicious cycle, to be sure.  So lay off the sauce if you want to sleep better.

  • Sugar

As I just mentioned above, blood sugar plays an enormous role in our wake-sleep cycles.  Many times people feel sleepy after eating a high carbohydrate meal, so they think if they have a big bowl of ice cream right before bed, it will help them sleep better.

First of all, if you are getting sleepy after eating (day or night), this is your Blood Sugar Dummy Light going on, telling you that you had too many carbohydrates in the meal you just ate.  Concentrate on getting more high-quality protein in, and cut down on the carbs, such as sugar, corn syrup, pastas and grains, alcohol, and even fruit.

Secondly, if your blood sugar is unstable, I can almost guarantee that you will be waking up at least once in the middle of the night, as you slip into hypoglycemia and your brain starts screaming for some fuel.  One simple tip for this is to eat a low-carbohydrate snack before bed to help stabilize your blood sugar.  This may be a handful of almonds, a little bit of cheese, or some apple slices with natural peanut or almond butter.  This can decrease the fasting time and regulate your blood sugar during the night, giving you a better night’s sleep.

PS:  If you are concerned about a low-carb, healthy snack before bed causing you to gain weight, don’t be.  You are far more likely to pack on the fat pounds by losing sleep (which causes your hormonal and metabolism systems to derail) than you are from getting a few calories (in the right form) in before bed.

  • TV, Gaming, Internet Surfing, Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Google +ing, etc.

The main area involved in regulating sleep is in the brainstem.  Here we find the Reticular Activating Center (RAC), and just like the name says, its job is to keep us activated and awake.  It shouldn’t be active all the time, however.  It is designed to chill out in the evening and nighttime hours so that we can get good, restful sleep.

Guess what keeps the RAC active:  LIGHT and SOUND.  If you are bombarding your senses with light and sound you will keep your RAC stimulated, and send powerful signals to your brain that it is not time to go to sleep.  So as you wind down for the evening, wind the visual and auditory stimulation down also.  Your bedroom should be dark and free from anything blinking, flashing, or bright.  If you suffer from insomnia, consider cutting off the electronics and wireless gadgets 3 hours before your lights-out time.  Use “white noise” devices, or even ear plugs if you have to while you sleep, to keep spontaneous noises to a dull roar (pun intended).  Consider an eye mask to keep excess light from waking you up too early.

In addition to the constant electronics and digital gadgets revving up your brainstem and contributing to insomnia (and anxiety, incidentally…unless you suffer from anxiety, then it’s not incidental at all), there is a lot discussion and research these days about the dangers of sleeping too close to your phone, computer, and other electronics, even when they are in the “sleep” mode (ironic, isn’t it?).  The review of the research deserves an entire post of its own, so for now I will simply say it would do us all a world of good to unplug a bit more these days, especially before bed.  Don’t use your phone as your alarm clock or sleep with it next to your head.  Shut down your electronic devices, or keep them in a different room while you sleep.

Keep it Simple and Functional

There are so many pills and devices out there these days designed to help us sleep, and some of you will need more help than what is in this article.  Many of my patients certainly do.  But these tips should be part of your sleep rehabilitation even if you are needing medication or additional help.

What is clear to me after 13 years of practice is that people jump to the medications (natural, over the counter, and prescriptive) before trying the simple things first.  What I have found is that getting back to the basics as discussed here can help to restore your sleep pattern so you don’t have as much of a reliance on sleep aids, which many times have side-effects of their own.  So give this a shot.  You have nothing to lose and a good night’s sleep to gain.

As I mentioned in the intro, sleep is an extremely complex function.  Many other systems have to be working correctly in order to enjoy proper sleep.  These include our adrenal glands, thyroid, blood sugar, and inhibitory neurotransmitters, just to name a few.  These will be addressed in later blog posts, and of course in the book I am currently working on.  If you have questions or suggestions on what you’d like to hear more about, please leave a comment.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

Dancing Circles Around Dementia

Dementia is loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.  No one wants to lose their faculties, and few things are more horrific than seeing your loved ones go through this hell.

There is one activity that has been proven to not only help prevent the onset of dementia, but to also reduce dementia in a person who has already developed it.

There are specific things you can do to decrease your risk factors for developing dementia:

  • Control your weight
  • Control your blood pressure—not too high OR too low
  • Decrease your intake of sugar, gluten and other inflammatory foods
  • Eat your fruits and veggies
  • Eat plenty of good fats
  • Supplement with resveratrol, astaxanthin, EPA/DHA and other high quality brain protectors
  • Socialize with others
  • Keep your brain active, learning, and challenged
  • Exercise

These are all important to do habitually.  But which activity can help to reverse signs of dementia?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that adults who danced frequently had a significantly decreased risk (76%) of developing dementia.  This is amazing of and by itself.  But the study also showed that DANCING WAS THE ONLY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY THAT REDUCED DEMENTIA compared with those who participated in other activities such as golf, tennis, swimming, bicycling, walking, and housework (I could have told you with certainty that the last one doesn’t decrease dementia.  Many would argue that it causes the disease).

Dancing has been shown in numerous studies to have other benefits too, such as improving balance, coordination, and physical conditioning, as well as increasing socialization.

Dancing uses complex areas of our brain, including the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.  When we do activities that are novel and challenging, these areas of the brain can rewire and become stronger.  This is the principal of NEUROPLASTICITY (see my blog post entitled, “Did You Know Your Brain Is Plastic?” (  http://yourtoplife.com/?p=166 ). Researchers think that the increase in neural synapses achieved during dancing are what reverse the signs of dementia.

So put on your dancing shoes, turn on some music, invite your friends, and dance the night away!  You’ll remember those moments—and others—long into the future.

A Functional Neurologist’s Secret To Help Stop SNORING

Are You The Snorer or the Snoree?

Statistics say that 30-40% of adults snore.  Not only is it annoying and sleep-depriving to those who may be unlucky enough to share a room with you (there’s even a syndrome named after this, called Spousal Arousal Syndrome), snoring typically means that you are not getting restful, restorative sleep.  Lack of sleep leads to all kinds of other problems, including increased rate of aging and age related illness (heart disease, dementia, and balance disorders, to name a few), impaired immune system function, and decreased alertness, memory and energy.  Lack of sleep messes with your moods, too, and makes you grouchy.  You know it’s true.


Studies have shown that you cannot dream when you snore.  And up to 40% of snorers also suffer from sleep apnea, a dangerous condition where the person will actually stop breathing for periods of time during sleep.  This increases risks of stoke and heart attack, and leaves the person feeling unrefreshed upon awakening.  Oxygen is one thing the brain does not ever, ever, ever like to be without, and neurons start dying within minutes of being deprived (if this is a problem for you, please see your doctor ASAP about using a CPAP Machine).


Why, Why, Why??

In order to have a solution, we must understand the problem first.  Let’s talk about why you and/or your loved one snores.  You may already know that being middle-aged, overweight and inactive are precursors to sawing logs noisily through the night.  But the reason these are risk factors is because it means your soft palate is getting weak and sloppy.


Your soft palate is right behind your hard palate, which is the hard part of the roof of your mouth.  If you run your tongue along the roof of your mouth from front to back, you will be able to feel where the hard palate stops and the soft palate begins.  The soft palate looks like a semicircle at the entrance of the throat, and the uvula is the punching-bag looking thing that hangs down the middle of it.


If you look in a mirror, open your mouth really wide, and say, “ah ah ah”, you should see your soft palate raise and lower.  You may notice that only one side raises, or that one side gets tired after two or three repetitions, and won’t raise as much the more you say “ah ah ah”.  This is called a palatal paresis, or a weakness in the soft palate.  My mentor called it a “sloppy palate”.  No one wants a sloppy palate!


When the soft palate is completely elevated, it blocks the nasal cavity from the mouth.  Try it:  raise your soft palate and then try to breathe through your nose.  If your soft palate is working right, you won’t be able to get air into your lungs.


Another function of the soft palate is to create a vacuum when it’s elevated, to close off the opening to your lungs when you eat.  One sign of a very weak or sloppy palate is if you frequently cough and choke while you’re drinking, because the liquid “goes down the wrong pipe” (the bronchial tubes instead of the esophagus).


Our soft palate should always maintain a certain amount of tone in it, even when we are sleeping.  The tone of the soft palate mainly comes from the brainstem (the brainstem also controls breathing, blood pressure, and other automatic functions through our autonomic nervous system).  If your frontal lobe is firing strongly into your brainstem as it was designed to do, then your soft palate will have good tone in it, even when you’re sleeping.  If one side is weak, it can mean that one side of the brainstem is not getting the same amount of signaling as the other side.  This is something to address with your functional neurologist.


If the palate is very weak and sloppy, it can cut off the flow of oxygen from the nasal cavity and mouth into the lungs, especially when you are lying on your back.  This is what causes snoring. And if it cuts off the air supply for extended periods of time, it is called sleep apnea.


What’s the Solution?

You probably already know that increasing your activity and sticking with an exercise program is going to help.  Lose some weight, and get moving.  That’s key for just about any problem you suffer from.  But I’m going to share a secret with you that can target your snoring problem even more effectively:  Exercise your soft palate.


It may seem odd to “exercise” something that should work on it’s own.  But when the automatic things in our body stop working properly, there are consequences.  Think of your bladder, your lungs, and your heart.  Thankfully, your palate is a muscle that is easy to exercise, and you can usually get it functioning again.


***Disclaimer***  Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.  Even one for your palate.


And just how do you put your soft palate on an exercise regimen?  Weight resistance training for the soft palate is as easy as GARGLING!


That’s right, gargling.  Put some fluid toward the back of your throat, tilt your head back a little, and gargle away.  If you do this before and after you brush your teeth every morning and every night, you will get in a good habit that may just stop that snoring ridiculousness for good.


A word of caution here:  if you find that you frequently inhale liquids down into your lungs, or if your soft palate is very, very weak, you could be at danger of choking if you try to gargle with liquid.  Please be careful and try it first with someone there with you. Certain medications can make this problematic.  Run this by your doctor if you are taking any medications, OR if you are self-medicating.  Alcohol, for example, can make this exercise much harder than it should be.  [Interestingly, most medications that people use to help them sleep or to decrease stress/anxiety, whether prescription or not, decrease the tone in the soft palate and can make your snoring problem worse].


If you need to, start by gargling without any liquid first, or by simply saying “ah, ah, ah” successive times to increase the strength of your palate, and gradually it will get strong enough for you to gargle with liquid.


Start with just a few seconds before and after brushing your teeth (another word of caution:  harsh mouthwashes are not the best thing to use.  Use a natural mouthwash (dilute it if it’s strong), or plain water, or water with a couple drops of hydrogen peroxide in it.  Warm salt water works great too, especially if you have a sore throat or swollen tonsils.  Gradually work your way up until you are safely able to gargle for 20 seconds at a time.


For an “advanced” soft palate workout, try to “sing” while you are gargling.  No one’s going to be able to understand what you’re singing.  But different tones and pitches make your palate work differently, and make it even stronger.


Commit to trying it for 3 months, and you’ll be amazed.  I’d love to hear back from you to hear your stories and testimonials, and answer any questions you may have.  Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

Did You Know Your Brain Is Plastic?

No, I don’t mean it’s literally made of plastic.  But it is changeable, malleable, and able to grow–no matter what your age.

The brain is packed full of cells called neurons, whose job is to receive and transmit information.  They use chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, to carry out their job descriptions, activating some areas, and putting the breaks on others, so that we can move, eat, breathe, laugh, love and live.  So what’s this “plastic” business all about?

Plasticity is a term used to denote that the brain is changeable, malleable, and able to rewire.  The primary way our brain “grows” is by creating new and complex pathways that connect different areas to one another.  All of the things we learn and the events we experience throughout our lives create connections between brain cells, or pathways.  The more we do a particular activity, or the more profoundly an experience effects us, the stronger and deeper these pathways become.  Only 20% of our pathways are “hard-wired”, or common between each human being.  That means the vast majority of your brain is made up of pathways that are unique to your own combination of your genetics, experiences, thoughts, and activities.

Neuroplasticity is truly a “use it or lose it” phenomenon.  The more times you activate a pathway (perform an activity, think a thought, act out a behavior, etc.), the stronger and more efficient the pathway will become, and the easier it will be to fire that pathway in the future.  This is great when it comes to learning to play a musical instrument, speaking a new language, developing better coordination and sports performance, or even becoming a more positive thinker.

But there is another edge to this sword.  Some experiences are so strong that they can create a pathway almost instantly.  Experiencing extreme pain, for example, can create a pathway that can exist after what actually caused the pain is long gone.  This partially explains why some people suffer from pain disorders such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Chronic Pain Syndrome (CPS).  A traumatic event can also “singe” a pathway into our brain, and can lead to anxiety or panic that can later make a person physiologically react even when they are not actually in danger (a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

So, now you know your brain is plastic.  But can you really rewire it?  Absolutely.  That’s what functional neurology is all about.  The key is to use plasticity to your advantage.  Stay tuned to future blog posts to learn how.

Power Your Workout With Probiotics

Power Your Workout With Probiotics

On Dr. Engelbart’s most recent Good Morning Texas interview, she discusses a recent athletic research study and tells you how to improve your aerobic capacity and strength by up to 30%.