Welcome to Part I of my weight loss & cravings newsletter series. This topic is an important one to me. As an integrated practitioner, it frustrates and saddens me that I have seen many people berate themselves for “being bad” and “eating the wrong foods”, when from a biochemical standpoint, their body was only trying to address an underlying imbalance by using what I term “extreme foods”.
Recently, Maricelle Pick, NP and Functional medical practitioner hosted a show discussing her core balance diet. In this program, she specifically addressed cravings and their physiological role in weight loss. This was the motivator for my idea to make this newsletter into a series.
I have many clients who have struggled with cravings and originally viewed these cravings as a sign that they are doing something wrong in their life (or that they themselves were wrong). This viewpoint creates a vicious cycle of labeling oneself as “bad” for “giving in” and eating a particular food, yet not being able to stop eating it. Although, overeating can be related to an addiction and emotional cover-up for life stressors, just like any symptom from the body, cravings have a physiological drive. I always tell my patients that when one uses willpower to fight biochemistry, biochemistry will win every time. So, how does one stop this war with their body’s biochemical signals?
Cravings have many physiological origins. The most common I have seen in my practice are the following:
1. Yeast overgrowth
2. Low serotonin or neurotransmitter imbalance
3. Mal-absorption (Leaky Gut) & nutritional deficiencies
4. Food allergies
6. Hormonal imbalances
I will address the first two in this feedback.
1. Yeast Overgrowth
Candida albicans is a common yeast overgrowth in many people. It is a form of intestinal yeast that naturally occurs in the human digestive tract. C. albicans becomes an issue when it displaces other symbiotic organisms that reside in the digestive tract as well causing many vague symptoms. These include intense cravings, weight gain, digestive disturbances, hormonal imbalances, and foggy thinking.
Yeast overgrowth tends to occur in people who eat diets high in sugar and processed foods. These people also tend to have a lowered immune response to infections. This is due to the fact that “friendly” bacteria in your gut are responsible for 85% of your immune response (through cytokine and T-cell modulation). These friendly bacteria also aid in overall health by producing B-vitamins (for hormones and adrenal function) and vitamin K (for blood and bone building).
Cravings occur from C. albicans due to the fact that it thrives on acidic foods such as sugar and candy. If one with this infection eats these foods the candida organism is fed and not the body. Therefore, the cells become starved for nutrients while the candida sits fat and happy in the gut (picture a cynical grin on that critter).
I recommend probiotics to most of my clients, as this will re-innoculate the population of friendly bacteria and force out the candida. I also use anti-fungal herbals and essential oils to kill off the overgrowth as dietary changes are implemented.
I do not recommend a candida cleanse without supervision from a trained healthcare professional. This is because when yeast dies off it produces formedaldehyde and you want to be sure that your practitioner is addressing how to modulate this issue to prevent you from becoming even more sick!
Once the candida is under control, cravings decrease and energy increases. Weight loss is an end result. This is because now that the physical body is healthy and functioning, emotional issues that caused the sugar habit are easier to address. There are basic serum lab tests that I suggest for my clients to track their success and to use as markers during the “yeast clearing” process. I also know when to refer to a PCP for a prescription anti-fungal in conjunction with natural methods.
2. Low serotonin or neurotransmitter imbalance
This situation is very much related to the addictive compulsive overeating pattern. I have seen many of my clients deal much better with this pattern of habit addiction when their neurotransmitters are balanced. This does not necessarily mean anti-depressant medication, though this can help temporarily. However, I favor more natural approaches first. It has been my experience that eventually prescription medication causes such a depletion in serotonin (it is only preventing the uptake of serotonin, not creating more), that a dependency cycle is created and increased dosages result.
Functional lab tests, either through blood or urine, can measure neurotransmitters or neurotransmitter metabolism. A trained clinician can also tell from symptoms and mood correlation whether to address serotonin or excitatory neurotransmitters. For example, if one is hypoglycemic and has diabetes, a doctor who practices integrative medicine will know that low serotonin is related to elevated insulin or blood sugar levels. (This is usually as a result of chronic or acute stress).
Carbohydrate and sugar cravings can be intense when there are low serotonin levels in the body. This is due to the fact the body needs instant energy as glucose from elevated adrenal stress hormones. Fighting biochemistry becomes almost impossible at this point without addressing blood sugar issues and adrenal support. Also, hormonal balance is affected and needs to be included in this picture, which I will get to later.
In closing the first part of this series, cravings are just a symptom of an underlying issue. I have seen incredible turn around in 1-2 weeks, for women in particular, using various adrenal support methods and serotonin precursors, including B-vitamins. Your well trained, integrated health care provider should be able to balance cravings out with dietary suggestions, mind-body medicine, and some core nutritional or herbal supplements. (Hint: if you need more than 5 supplements long-term to be in balance, you may want to either address this to your clinician, address your lifestyle choices, or accept that you need more support because you aren’t addressing the previous two).
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