What your feet can tell you about your brain

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If you wonder why you have brain fog, depression, worsening memory, or slow thinking, the clues may lie in your feet — your foot health can tell you whether your brain is receiving enough oxygen. Poor circulation to the feet creates myriad symptoms that signal circulation in the brain may also be poor, depriving your brain of oxygen, nutrients, and function.

Troublesome symptoms aren’t the only bad part of poor brain circulation. Insufficient oxygen to the brain speeds up brain aging and raises your risk of vascular dementia  It is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s.

Got cold feet? Your brain could be oxygen-deprived

Got cold toes and feet? If you have chronically cold feet, you may want to investigate whether your brain is getting enough oxygen and nutrients from sufficient circulation.

Have someone check if your feet and toes are colder than your ankles or calves. If so, your feet are not getting enough circulation, and your brain may not be either. Cold fingers and a cold nose are other symptoms.

Chronic fungal growth in toenails

If you have chronic fungal nail infections or chronic athlete’s foot, this can mean poor circulation is depriving your feet of enough oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells to ward off infection. This makes the feet and toenails more prone to fungal infections and fighting them a losing battle.

Poor capillary refill time and white toenail beds

Are the nail beds of your toes a healthy pink or a pale white? If circulation is poor, the nail beds are more white than pink.

Another test is to press down on a nail bed and observe how quickly the color returns. The pink color should return instantly. If it takes a few seconds this indicates poor blood flow to the feet and most likely the brain as well.

Cramping in the feet

When circulation to the feet is poor, it’s common to experience foot cramps that are difficult to relieve. The feet cramp due to lack of blood and oxygen to power the muscles. You may also experience cramps in your hands, such as when writing or typing. Both are signs circulation to the brain may be poor.

Is brain circulation poor? Here are some ideas

If you think poor brain circulation may be a culprit in your brain fog, memory loss, depression, or slow thinking, it’s important to figure out why your circulation is low.

Investigate health condition that cause poor blood flow and lack of oxygenation, such as hypothyroidism  anemia, a heart condition, diabetes, low blood pressure, smoking, or an overly sedentary lifestyle.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80. If the top or bottom number is 10 or more points below, that means the pressure is not high enough to push blood into the furthest ends of the body. Low blood pressure is typically accompanied by low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue.

In addition to addressing root causes, one way to boost blood flow to the brain is through bursts of high intensity exercise, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You may experience better brain function throughout the day if you do this first thing in the morning, such as with a few minutes of jumping jacks, pushups, running in place, or other exercise that gets you breathless and your heart pumping. It may sound like torture first thing in the morning for the person with adrenal fatigued, but it will make you feel better in the long run.

A variety of natural compounds also boost brain blood flow.

Other foot problems that signify brain problems

Another foot issue that signals poor brain health is peripheral neuropathy — when the nerves in the feet degenerate. This causes symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning, or stabbing pain in the feet.

Although toxins, injury, and some medications can cause peripheral neuropathy, the most common cause is diabetes. It’s not just your feet that suffer with diabetes. High blood sugar is extremely damaging to the brain and a proven risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you have diabetes or high blood sugar, tightly controlling your blood sugar through diet and lifestyle is imperative to protecting your brain (and your feet).

Ask my office for more ways functional neurology can improve circulation to the brain and thus brain function.

Feel worse on the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet?

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Although the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is a well known foundation for managing chronic health issues, some people are dismayed to find embarking on it makes them feel worse. What gives? The sudden change in diet can temporarily upset your chemistry and reveal hidden health problems.

If you have been accustomed to eating gluten, dairy, grains, sugars, and processed foods, going cold turkey off those foods is a radical shift. Likewise, adding in lots of vegetables can also shock a digestive system unaccustomed to ample plant fiber.

Most people feel significantly better on the AIP diet. If you’re not one of them, however, don’t give up on the diet. Instead, look for the underlying reason why.

Feeling temporarily worse on the AIP diet

Following are common adverse reactions to the autoimmune paleo diet. Knowing why you react negatively can further help you on your wellness journey.

Low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue can worsen on this diet. This is usually caused by not eating enough or frequently enough. The general recommendation is to eat every two to three hours, however, some people may initially need a bite or two every hour until blood sugar stabilizes and they can go longer without eating. Avoid sugary fruits and investigate what else may be taxing your adrenal function, such as brain-based issues, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.

New food sensitivities. When gut damage is bad and inflammation high, it’s possible to develop food sensitivities to new foods on the autoimmune diet. This is very frustrating for people as the diet is already so limited. This can be a complex situation that requires concerted effort to tame inflammation and repair the gut.

Opioid withdrawal reactions. Opioids are morphine-like chemicals made by the body that reduce pain and create a feeling of euphoria and well-being. Some people become dependent on foods that release opioids in the brain, namely gluten and dairy. They can initially experience depression, anger, lethargy, and agitation on the autoimmune diet. For those with serious opioid addictions to gluten and dairy, withdrawal can be intense.

Brain chemical imbalance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates affects brain chemicals that influence our mood, particularly serotonin and dopamine. Suddenly switching to a lower carbohydrate diet can disrupt the balance of brain chemicals and cause temporary changes in mood, behavior, and personality. You may need to gradually lower carbohydrate consumption if so.

Insomnia and anxiety. Some people report irresolvable insomnia and anxiety if carbohydrate consumption is too low. If these symptoms persist long after an adjustment period, you may simply need to use trial and error to find the carbohydrate “sweet spot” that lets you sleep but also keeps blood sugar in check.

Difficulty digesting fiber. The AIP diet is heavy on vegetables. For those with compromised digestive function, this can overwhelm the gut. Concerted gut repair nutritional therapy can ease you into a higher fiber diet.

Histamine intolerance. This is a reaction to aged or fermented foods that causes myriad symptoms, including rashes, runny nose, or headaches. Avoiding these foods for a while can help the gut heal so you can eat them later.

Yeast and bacteria die-off reactions. Going cold turkey off processed carbs, gluten, and dairy can cause a sudden and uncomfortable die off of harmful yeast and bacteria in your gut. This is especially true in the case of poor liver detoxification and constipation. Supporting the body’s pathways of elimination can help.

These are a few of the issues that can arise when you switch to the autoimmune paleo diet. Don’t forget to consider the grief and anger you may feel about missing your favorite foods. However, if you weather the transition and ferret out sources of discomfort, your newfound health will more than make up for the rough legs of the journey.