Copper toxic sydney naturopath

The Relationship Between Copper, Oestrogen & Anxiety

Copper toxicity is becoming a widespread concern in the modern world

It is one of the key underlying drivers of anxiety, oestrogen dominance, dysmenorrhoea (painful periods), menorrhagia (heavy periods), irregular periods, mental health issues and overall hormonal imbalances – in both men and women

The clients I meet in Sydney and online typically experience anxiety, hormonal imbalances, heavy and painful periods, PMS, digestive issues, adrenal fatigue and insomnia, and despite taking supplements, herbal medicine, making dietary & lifestyle changes and doing ‘all the right things,’ nothing seems to be shifting

If this sounds like you, there is a high chance that copper toxicity may be one of the key underlying causes driving your symptoms that you are missing in your treatment

It’s one of the key things that must be addressed because if you are trying to uncover the root cause of your symptoms. Copper toxicity is one of these underlying, organic biochemical processes in the body that is driving an imbalanced biochemistry which won’t resolve until copper levels are brought down

This is important to understand because although herbal medicine is an important and powerful intervention for regulating hormones and neurotransmitter production that I use frequently with my clients, if you haven’t addressed copper toxicity the herbs are essentially still a band-aid and you’re not getting to one of the core underlying causes. Nutritional medicine and supplementation interventions are more important for bringing copper levels down.

Typical symptoms of copper toxicity include:

  • Anxiety & Depression

  • Oestrogen Dominance

  • Nausea 

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Ringing In Ears

  • Hypochondria

  • Aggression, Anger

  • Early Hair Loss/Greying Of Hair

  • Iron Deficiency

  • Joint Pain & Inflammation

  • Behavioural Disorders (ADHD, Autism Spectrum)

Copper toxicity is something I screen all of my female clients seeking help with anxiety, especially if they also struggle with hormonal imbalances and have heavy periods. 90-95% of the time, these women have copper toxicity as viewed on blood tests, Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and their clinical symptom picture

I also screen most of my male clients for copper toxicity, especially if they are also experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalances, anxiety and depression

The Importance Of Balanced Copper & Zinc Levels

Copper is a heavy metal that we do actually need in the body in minuscule amounts, but it needs to be in a delicate balance with a mineral that’s very important for our health called Zinc.

Zinc is an extremely important mineral that is calming and relaxing to our nervous system. It helps to make neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin which are calming to the brain, it’s important for our immune system and fighting off infections, it’s important for our digestive function and healing the gut, and it’s also a very important antioxidant in the body.

Having excess copper levels drives a zinc deficiency in the body. Copper toxicity then fires up the brain because as opposed to zinc being an antioxidant, copper is a ‘pro-oxidant’ or a ‘free  radical’ and acts as a neurotoxin, affecting your neurotransmitter production and ultimately driving anxiety symptoms and hormonal imbalances. Having copper toxicity also causes individuals to have very poor stress tolerance, which is why they are so sensitive to anxiety and panic attacks

Copper & Oestrogen

Copper & oestrogen are intricately related. Copper toxicity and excess copper levels causes the body to hold onto oestrogen in the body and prevent its detoxification, and having excess oestrogen levels and poor oestrogen detoxification causes the body to hold onto copper. They tend to feed one another, creating a vicious cycle.

The most common symptoms associated with having copper toxicity & oestrogen dominance include:

  • Heavy Periods

  • Period Pain

  • Fibroids

  • Endometriosis

  • PMS

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue

  • Migraines

  • Digestive Issues – Bloating, Cramping, Altered Bowels

On top of all these symptoms that many women suffer, having excess copper levels drives iron deficiency

Iron is another very important mineral in the body which has a variety of functions including oxygen transport around the body, formation of red blood cells, energy production and reducing brain fog & fatigue. Women are highly susceptible to iron deficiency because of their monthly bleed, even more-so if their periods are heavy. Many women self-prescribe iron supplements and even though it may improve their fatigue temporarily, iron supplements block the absorption and utilisation of zinc in the body.

There are many women out there self-prescribing with iron, not realising that it is potentially keeping their zinc levels down, which is keeping their copper levels up, and this vicious cycle continues on. This is a very common scenario I see in my clinical practise in Sydney…

A woman presents with anxiety, heavy and painful periods, they are iron deficient due to the excess copper so their iron levels never seem to be able to increase, they may also have gut issues that don’t seem to get any better even with natural treatment…and the key driver of all this mess is copper toxicity which is not being addressed


What Is Causing Copper Toxicity?

  1. The Oral Contraceptive Pill  – The OCP increases copper levels in the body because it raises oestrogen levels. The OCP also causes zinc deficiency, B-vitamin deficiencies and negatively effects our beneficial gut flora
  2. Copper piping – used extensively in plumbing systems, drinking water can be a source of copper. Drinking unfiltered tap water is also a source of other heavy metals which cause significant damage in the body and the brain, e.g. lead
  3. Plant Based Diets – tend to be deficient in zinc, due to zinc being absorbed poorly in plants, compared to animal foods. Plants also tend to be a significant source of copper, e.g. avocado, chocolate, nuts. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue if you have a well-rounded diet, strong digestion, hormonal balance and practise stress-management, but many people following a plant-base diet struggle with having adequate overall zinc intake
  4. Vitamin C Deficiency – Vitamin  C is a key antioxidant for reducing copper absorption in the intestinal tract upon digestion. A high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh juices, are key for maintaining adequate vitamin C levels in the body. Many people choose to take Vitamin C supplements, which I do not recommend because at just 600mg/day, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can affect the copper transport protein Caeruloplasmin, which is needed to transport copper around the body.If we are taking synthetic vitamin C to reduce copper levels, but is also reducing caeruloplasmin, we are kind of missing the point. Wholefood Vitamin C supplements are therefore recommended
  5. Xeno-oestrogens – environmental sources of oestrogen-like compounds that act as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ which cause hormonal imbalances and drive copper toxicity. Xeno-oestrogens are found in synthetic cosmetics, insecticides, plastics, BPA, pthalates, unfiltered drinking water and many other chemicals
  6. Organic farming – whilst organic food is important, they are also a source of ‘natural’ pesticides made from copper sulphate
  7. Poor digestive function & detoxification capacity – at the end of the day, the state of your overall health comes down to being able to digest and break down, absorb, assimilate and detoxify food, chemicals and toxins. The gut must be strong. If you have digestive issues and a combination of some of the factors above, this is the recipe for a copper storm

Fertility & Children

In today’s modern world, babies are being born who already have copper/zinc imbalances, and who are exposed to a significant source of heavy metals due to a lifetime of maternal exposure to heavy metals being passed on. Kids are growing up with heavy metal toxicities which have serious effects on their neurological development. A minimum of 6 months (preferably 12 months) should be given for preconception care with appropriate testing, to allow for gut health restoration and detoxification. This is to ensure mums are in the best state of health possible before falling pregnant

If women go into pregnancy having with copper toxicity and heavy metal issues, this predisposes them to post-natal depression. Pre-natal care is so important!


Plasma Zinc, Serum Copper, Caeruloplasmin – These 3 blood tests are essential for evaluating your zinc:copper ratio, and how much of your copper is ‘bound’ vs ‘unbound’ – unbound copper is toxic. Plasma zinc and serum copper levels on their own can not guide treatment – you must have Caeruloplasmin levels tested to properly evaluate and monitor your treatment program

Think of caeruloplasmin as a transporter ‘taxi’ protein that is responsible for taking copper around in the bloodstream. If these levels are low relative to zinc and copper levels in the body, we have a high amount of copper that is not bound to caeruloplasmin, which is the ‘unbound copper.’

Using blood tests of zinc and copper on their own are not sufficient to determine whether or not you have adequate zinc and copper levels. We need caeruloplasmin to determine determine the percentage of copper that is floating around in the bloodstream unbound. This is important to understand as this is what acts in the body as a neurotoxin and drives alot of symptoms. Without caeruloplasmin, you are flying blind

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) – a more accurate test for assessing the storage amount of minerals and heavy metals in the body. It also allows us to assess mineral status based on ratios compared to other minerals in the body

These two testing strategies are absolutely essential to combine together to assess nutritional status and copper status effectively

Work with a practitioner who has experience in and understands how to order and evaluate these tests int the context of your entire health presentation and symptoms

It will save you alot of time and money spent on unnecessary supplements through guessing and trying to treat symptoms without treating the underlying cause

Holistic Approach

Like any naturopathic treatments, it never comes down to just one reason as to why someone is ill – there is always a complex interplay of many factors that are causing symptoms. An individual approach needs to be tailored, and since we’re dealing with the body needing to excrete heavy metals effectively and have optimum levels of other minerals in the body, there is generally a need for some digestive & microbiome support, especially the liver and the bowels, to ensure that your digestion is strong, the bowels are eliminating and liver detoxification is optimal.

Digestive support is for many people a starting point of treatment because if you go in with high-doses of minerals or binders to deal with copper toxicity and bring other heavy metals down, but your liver and bowels are not functioning optimally and you are not excreting properly, then this is when people usually get sick trying to go hard and fast and doing extreme ‘detox’ regimes. Heavy metals are mobilised into the bloodstream and reabsorbed, which often makes people much worse.

It is a very delicate process that needs to be treated with caution under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. There is no one-set protocol, even if you have been diagnosed with Pyroluria (Pyrroles Disorder”)

Resolving Copper Toxicity

From personal experience, uncovering that I had issues with copper & heavy metals and then treating them accordingly completely shifted my health. I had tried for years with other approaches and supplements, diets, herbs etc. but it wasn’t until I got to the core underlying cause that I was able to restore my health properly.

Lesson of the story = Test, Don’t Guess!

I have seen incredible shifts in my client’s health when we have uncovered copper toxicity and heavy metals. If this is your issue, it is seriously life-changing

It’s important to address because as important as the mind-body connection is, and the role of spiritual practises and belief-systems, these things won’t be effective while there is something in the physical body that has not been addressed. It is one very important piece of the puzzle. Once you deal with copper toxicity, you will most probably find you will be much more motivated to work with emotional, psychological and spiritual tools for healing

Healthy and balanced biochemistry = a healthy and balanced brain & nervous system

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 92113811
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sydney naturopath pyroluria

Treating Pyroluria (Pyrroles Disorder) In Sydney | A Wholistic Approach

Naturopathic & functional medicine approaches to mental health & wellbeing is a passion of mine

After being left empty-handed and with no answers from the conventional medical profession about my own experiences with anxiety, addiction, extreme inner tension and a host of other issues, I was lucky enough to stumble upon areas of complementary and integrative medicine that were life-changing

One of these fascinating discoveries is the condition Pyroluria, also known as ‘Pyrroles Disorder,’ ‘Kryptopyrroluria,’ & ‘Mauve Factor’

Although the idea of Pyroluria being a ‘condition’ is controversial, the discovery of this abnormality in metabolism has proved extremely valuable to the millions of people who have suffered from life-long anxiety, depression, mood-swings, insomnia, behavioural disorders, addictions,  gut issues & people who are generally hyper-sensitive individuals (including children)

Majority of the clients who start treatment for Pyroluria experience an almost immediate and significant reduction in symptoms that have crippled them for many years. They report being able to finally sleep well, have more energy, have stable moods, are less anxious and feel like they can face the world with a bit more confidence. It is a truly remarkable thing to witness

What is Pyroluria?

The term Pyroluria refers to having excess levels of ‘pyrroles’ in urine, of which the chemical name is hydroxyhaemopyrrolin-2-one (HPL)

Pyrroles are a naturally occurring byproduct of haemoglobin synthesis (Hb). While it is normal for humans to have low levels of pyrroles in their urine, as much as up to 10% of individuals have an abnormality in their ability to metabolise and synthesise haemoglobin, resulting in elevated pyrroles in their urine.

The significance of having elevated pyrroles is that this byproduct binds with the mineral Zinc and Vitamin B6, which are involved in hundreds of important biochemical reactions that influence neurotransmitter production, hormone production, digestive enzyme and hydrochloric acid production, antioxidant production and many more – they are incredibly important nutrients!

Pyroluria is therefore defined as a metabolic disorder that causes excess levels of pyrroles which cause nutrient deficiencies in the body and can lead to a variety of symptoms including (but not limited to):

  • Anxiety, Inner Tension

  • Mood Swings

  • Depression

  • Poor morning appetite, nausea

  • Histrionic (dramatic)

  • Poor stress tolerance

  • Digestive issues

  • Sensitivity To noise and lights

  • Poor Dream Recall (but tends to recall only nightmares)

  • Poor short term memory

  • Chronic dry skin

  • Poor sleep & insomnia

  • Increased tendency towards infection & illness

How Was Pyroluria Discovered?

Pyroluria was identified in the 1950s by Dr Abram Hoffer, who detected “Mauve Factor” (HPL) in the urine of schizophrenic patients and successfully treated them with large doses of Vitamin B3. Dr. Humphrey Osmond & Dr. Carl Pfieffer similarly reported high Mauve factor in patients experiencing psychosis, alcoholism and behavioural-disorders in children. Upon giving their patients doses of Zinc and Vitamin B6, they noted incredible improvements in thousands of patients that they treated

Conditions that are associated with elevated pyrroles include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Autism

  • ADHD

  • Schizophrenia

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Alcoholism

  • Learning disabilities

  • Epilepsy

  • Alcoholism & Substamce Abuse

  • Criminal Behaviour

Genetics Or Environment?

Pyroluria is described in the literature as a genetic condition, although no specific gene is yet to be identified. Practitioners certainly do see pyroluria being passed down from one generation to the next, particularly in families with a strong history of mental illness, trauma, childhood abuse and substance abuse

Since we don’t know its exact genetic origin,  it is a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation for most people, due to fact that many clients present with pyroluria upon the onset of a highly stressful and traumatic incident, e.g. substance abuse, emotional trauma, post-viral infection, being in an accident, or any extremely high-stress event that has taken its toll on the body. This would suggest that pyroluria is epigenetic in nature, in that you may have a genetic predisposition to producing excess pyrroles, which manifested due to the onset of a stressful event.

It can also be triggered by other things in our environment – vitamin and mineral deficiencies, heavy metal toxicities, copper toxicity, poor digestion and intestinal hyper-permeability

Testing For Pyroluria: A Step-By-Step Guide

  1. Book an appointment with a naturopath who is experienced and knowledgeable about pyroluria and related issues, such as heavy metal toxicity. It’s important for treatment to be tailored to the individual, as there are many related factors that can be causing high levels of pyrroles. Once you have booked in and are working with a practitioner, it’s time to start ordering the appropriate and foundational testing to be able to treat wholistically and effectively:
  2. Urinary Kryptopyrrole Testing – I only use testing by Applied Analytical Laboratories, as they are the only lab who have had accreditation of their analytical technique and independent evaluation of their reference range
  3. Plasma Zinc, Serum Copper, Caeruloplasmin – These 3 blood tests are essential for evaluating your zinc:copper ratio, and how much of your copper is ‘bound’ vs ‘unbound’ – unbound copper is toxic and is what drives alot of symptoms in those with pyroluria. Plasma zinc and serum copper levels on their own can not guide treatment – you must have Caeruloplasmin levels tested to properly evaluate and monitor your treatment program
  4. Whole Blood Histamine – a blood test marker that is useful in evaluating the functionality of methylation processes in the body – vital for neurotransmitter production, hormone production, detoxification and DNA repair
  5. Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) – for assessment of heavy metal toxicity (mercury, aluminium, lead, cadmium etc.) and mineral ratios. It is absolutely essential to investigate and address any relevant heavy metal toxicities as they are neurotoxins and drive many psychiatric symptoms.Pyrrole supplements may help initially, but if you don’t address heavy metals, they will become a band-aid. Some people with heavy metal toxicity actually feel worse on pyrrole supplements and need to get these metals down carefully
  6. Standard Pathology – Iron studies, Vitamin D, Hormonal Profile, Full Blood Count, CRP, ESR, Fasting Insulin, Liver Function Tests, Thyroid Panel, Homocysteine

This is a foundational starting point for being assessed wholistically and accurately, so that your treatment and supplementation can be individualised

Depending on your presentation and symptoms, further functional testing may be suggested, for example many clients I see also have significant digestive symptoms and benefit from microbiome testing (Ubiome, GI-Map, PCR Stool Complex)

Why A Wholistic Approach Is Important

I have met too many clients who have been diagnosed with pyroluria, and are put onto high-dose supplements with no consideration of other aspects of their health. People may initially feel much better on supplements, but then eventually crash. Many others actually feel immediately worse on supplementation due to copper dumping and mobilisation of heavy metals. This typically happens when dosing is too high, and their body is not ready to handle supplements

It’s important to understand and think about having pyroluria almost like a symptom

It is a symptom of underlying oxidative stress in the body

When there is an imbalance of oxidative stress in the body, ‘free radicals’ destroy cellular processes and biochemical reactions, resulting in severe symptoms

This doesn’t just happen on its own purely due to genetics – we have to take a step back and ask why there is oxidative stress & therefore elevated pyrroles in the body. Oxidative stress driving pyroluria could be due to a variety of factors:

This is the beauty of functional naturopathic medicine – we look at the whole person in the context of their entire lives, address all body symptoms, evaluate your entire health and medical history, use functional & standard testing, and treat accordingly.

If you or a loved one can relate to experiencing ongoing chronic anxiety, depression, inner tension, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, insomnia, mood disorders and gut issues – put off waiting and get the appropriate testing done. It could completely transform your health!

Healthy and balanced biochemistry = a healthy and balanced brain & nervous system

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 92113811
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Anxiety - Why It's Not Always In Your Head & How To Treat The Root Cause

Anxiety – Why It’s Not Always In Your Head & How To Treat The Root Cause

I regularly see clients at my practise in Sydney seeking help with chronic anxiety symptoms.

Whilst occasional worry and situational anxiety is a normal human experience, chronic anxiety can be debilitating as it becomes distressing and uncontrollable.

Physically it may manifest for you as sleep disturbance and insomnia, a constant feeling of tight pressure in the chest and throat, heart palpitations, tension headaches, ‘wired and tired,’ irritability and concentration problems…

Emotionally it can be incredibly draining, as if you are constantly on guard and fearful of something completely random and ‘normal,’ with a desire to numb yourself in whatever way possible as a means to relax, feel safe and get through the day (or the night).

You may dread socialising due to the chance of an embarrassing or stressful interactions with others…I have been here and used to feel guilty and ashamed of my thoughts and behaviours, not realising that there may in fact be organic underlying reasons as to why I was feeling so anxious. It is such a relief and incredibly empowering when you can find out what specifically may be causing anxiety in you.

However you experience anxiety, there are 4 key areas to address and investigate to find out what may be driving your anxiety:

1. Heavy Metals

The brain is highly susceptible to a variety of toxic metals, and due to its high fat content it can store toxic metals over long periods of time, causing neurotoxicity. I observe high levels of copper in many of my clients, which can be a huge driver of anxiety and ‘adrenal fatigue’ (HPA Axis dysfunction).

For this reason I routinely order Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) to assess levels of heavy metals stored in the body, as well as a blood test for zinc, copper & caeruloplasmin (a ‘transport’ protein), so that we can uncover if heavy metals are an issue. If they are, we are able to fine tune treatments to safely get these levels down.

Understanding the impact of heavy metals is important because you can take supplements and herbal medicine for symptom relief and have talk-therapy but if you don’t address one of the underlying causes in the body – the anxiety will continue to resurface

2. Nutrient Deficiencies

There are a handful of foundational vitamins and minerals which are typically deficient:

  • Magnesium has an important role in neurological activity, is needed for energy production, a healthy stress response, balanced blood sugar levels, hormone balance…it is super important, and usually deficient in anxious individuals because it is rapidly depleted through chronic stress
  • Zinc is a mineral that is required as a pre-cursor to every neurotransmitter & hormone in the body. A deficiency is usually seen alongside high copper levels, as the two are meant to be in a delicate balance. Most people are zinc deficient (and most people with anxiety have high copper levels). Zinc is an important antioxidant with profound effects on our immune, digestive and neurological symptoms. The most accurate way to test for zinc relative to copper levels is through blood pathology and HTMA testing
  • B Complex Vitamins are involved in a range of biochemical pathways that influence neurotransmitter production, nerve cell synthesis and DNA repair. B6, Folate (B9), & B12 are especially important for a process known as methylation – a biochemical process involved with neurotransmitter synthesis, heavy metal detoxification and DNA repair. Some people feel immediately better on B-Complex Vitamins, whilst others who are sensitive experience a worsening of anxiety related symptoms. For this reason I recommend these clients have an MTHFR Gene Test to rule out the potential genetic susceptibility of having methylation issues (this can be a game-changer for people)
  • EPA/DHA (Omega-3) Fats are crucial for the healthy functioning of our central nervous system and deficiency can result in low mood, neuro-inflammation (and systemic inflammation), and cognitive decline. Download & Refer to my free E-Book The Mind-Body Blueprint for a more detailed run-down on how and where to obtain EPA/DHA to reduce inflammation, and other dietary tips.

3. HPA Axis Dysfunction (“Adrenal Fatigue”)

When you are feeling extremely anxious or having panic attack, you are constantly sending a signal to your brain that you are under threat (even if it is only imagined). The brain responds by flooding the body with stress hormones so that you can flee from danger.

After hours, days, months and even years of this stress response being over-activated, this system becomes dysregulated and results in feeling ‘wired and tired’ (anxious yet fatigued), sleep disturbance and insomnia, erratic energy peaks and slumps (e.g. mid-afternoon crash with a surge of energy late at night time!), appetite suppression and digestive symptoms.

Restoring the HPA Axis is targeted with a combination of adaptogenic and adrenal tonic herbal medicines (e.g. Withania somnifera, Rhodiola rosea, Rehmannia glutinosa), nutrients (e.g. Vitamin C, B-Complex Vitamins, Zinc) & effective stress reduction techniques such as a breathwork practise or meditation.

For clients who have not responded at all to previous foundational treatments, a salivary cortisol test is useful for evaluating levels of the stress hormones and how they are fluctuating, so that treatment can be more specific.

4. Gut Health

“Fire in the gut – fire in the brain,” i.e. if you have inflammation, parasites, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), fungal overgrowth, stealth infections (e.g. Lymes disease) or dysbiosis in the gut, then that is going to produce an inflammatory response that affects the brain and can cause inflammation. This is another example similar to not addressing heavy metals – you can take supplements for digestive system relief, but if you don’t address what’s causing it, they will continue to surface.

The fact that there is 400x more serotonin produced in the gut than in the brain and that researchers now talk about our gut being the ‘second brain,’ is just scratching the surface of why it’s important to address our gut microbiome health. even if we don’t have ‘typical’ symptoms such as cramping, bloating, alternating bowels and indigestion, there may be some level of gut flora imbalance causing psychological symptoms.

The gut is an organ that is a branch of our nervous system – think of it as a large bag of giant muscle, a big bundle of nerves that responds to our nervous system activity. The gut, our nervous system and the stress response are intricately linked, and we now know that anxiety and the stress response disrupts our gut microflora and gut-wall integrity.

I unfortunately meet many clients who have never experienced anxiety until they have had a course of strong antibiotics, due to their effect on our gut microbiome. Antibiotics can be the underlying cause of a lifetime of physical and psychological problems.

If this sounds like you, focusing on restoring your gut microbiome would be a key treatment strategy.

A Holistic & Functional Approach To Anxiety

Anxiety is experienced by everyone differently. It is not the same for everyone. Treatment must be holistic if we are to truly uncover the root cause.

The conventional medical approach to understanding anxiety is that it’s caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain (due to an ‘unknown’ cause), which are then treated with medications that increase the availability of these neurotransmitters in the brain. The issue with this approach is that, while it may appear offer effective symptom relief in the short-term and extremely necessary for a small group of people, they are not meant to be long-term prescriptions.

They should be used if necessary, whilst trying to uncover the underlying causes. It is a very reductionist approach to just hand someone a medication without any further investigation other than a short conversation. It’s like having a rock in your shoe that’s causing inflammation and pain, so you take panadol for pain relief, but haven’t addressed the rock in your shoe. As a functional naturopathic practitioner I am interested in addressing the rock in your shoe and getting it out, so you don’t have to take unnecessary medications.

Whilst brain chemistry is important, these are so many other factors to consider – as I have already mentioned we must consider heavy metals, nutrient deficiencies, HPA axis dysfunction and gut health. I am also interested in your environment, work/life balance, stress tolerance, emotional and/or spiritual health, and past traumas or significant events. All of these things are involved with having anxiety.

Sometimes we just need to be heard in a safe space so we can explore and process our emotions without judgement. This is why I don’t look at anxiety as a ‘problem’ or a ‘condition’ – it is a signal from the body that something is wrong. The body is incredibly smart. We shouldn’t be trying to ‘suppress’ anxiety to deal with it, we should be asking why it is there. Anxiety is part of our primitive, emotional brain that protects us from danger. By taking a holistic and functional approach to anxiety, we can find out what is causing it.

Being heard, and allowing our past wounds, stresses and traumas to surface is just as important as investigating the potential physical drivers. It goes both ways. If we can consider everything together and customise treatment plans to the individual, you can say goodbye to chronic anxiety.

Please download my free E-Book The Mind-Body Blueprint which goes into much more extensive detail about the foundations of mental health, and feel free to get in touch if you would like to dig a bit deeper and work together to achieve optimal health. Naturopathic medicine can do marvellous things for mental health & wellbeing.

Yours In Health,
Steven Judge

Sydney Naturopath

Wholistic Medical Centre (Surry Hills)
(02) 9211-3811
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Sydney Naturopath Anxiety Depression

Training Your Brain For Gut Health – Is The Vagus Nerve The Missing Link In Resolving Chronic Digestive Disorders, Mental Health & Autoimmunity?

If you suffer from

  • Mental health conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Behavioural disorders such as ADHD)
  • Digestive disorders (Chronic Constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  • Autoimmune Diseases (Hashimotos Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis)

OR a combination of these…

It can be frustrating to feel like you are doing all of the ‘right’ things – you might be following a gluten free + dairy free/paleo/gluten-free/anti-inflammatory diet of sorts, ruled out or are treating IBS/infections/parasites, you’re taking probiotics, prebiotics, l-glutamine, digestive enzymes, bone broth, gut-healing powders and specific gut- nutrients (e.g zinc)…But you are STILL frustratingly suffering from gut symptoms and related conditions, and haven’t noticed a drastic improvement in your mental health and overall well-being.

Or you may feel much better taking these things but once you take them away you are immediately unwell. If this sounds like you, we may need to dive a bit deeper into the role of the gut-brain axis and in particular THE VAGUS NERVE, incorporating specific techniques to get your gut functioning strong and bowel movements happy, which in turn will drastically improve your mental health and help to dampen the inflammatory cascade of autoimmunity.

What Is the Brain-Gut Axis?

It is a pathway of communication that occurs via the vagus nerve and our gut microbiome.

Whilst we know much about the importance of our microbiome, aka our ‘beneficial gut flora,'(check out my blog article on prebiotics + sleep for more info) much less consideration is generally given to the other direction of this axis working ‘brain-down’, which is via the vagus nerve. Dr. Datis Kharrazian, who was awarded Researcher Of The Year in 2017 by the International Association of Functional Neurology, explains that “One of the most neglected things that I think most practitioner’s don’t understand, whether they’re conventional or alternative, is that there’s this brain-to-gut axis,”… and basically that what we may think of traditionally as gut-disorders are in fact neuro-degenerative diseases that start in the gut. The vagus nerve connects the brain with every other organ in the body, allowing the brain and the gut talk to each-other (they have quite an intimate relationship!)

This communication is “bi-directional,” meaning that communcation travels in both directions – the vagus nerve also carries information from the body back to the brain. Why is this so important for our digestion and overall health? Basically, the brain plays a crucial role in gut function as it controls gut motility (the movement of food through the intestines). When gut motility is impaired this means that your food is not moving and being broken down, nor can you make your own digestive enzymes, which will eventually result in fermentation and bacterial or yeast overgrowth.

Just taking digestive enzymes and gut-healing nutrients will not resolve the spectrum of underlying causes unless you address the brain-gut dysfunction – THE BRAIN is what makes us produce digestive enzymes in the first place and directs blood flow to the gut. One of the key things that would highlight an issue with the functioning of your vagus nerve is if you have issues with gut MOTILITY – i.e. if you have constipation, have to drink coffee to have a bowel movement, rely on magnesium or laxatives for bowel movements, if you have chronic & unresolved bloating…

If there is no gut motility or production of digestive enzymes due to dysfunction in the brain, this is what will will cause intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”) and then a range of downstream effects that drive chronic inflammation and an overactive immune system that can develop into an autoimmune condition – when they body starts to attack itself….so we may need to take a step back and approach chronic gut conditions from the brain down! This can not be done with a supplement – sure, they may help relieve symptoms, but it will not ultimately treat the underlying cause. In this case, we must develop plasticity and new neural connections so that:

-> Neurons fire into eachother -> Brain fires to the vagus nerve -> Vagus nerve fires into the gut nervous system -> migrating motor complex functions properly (which means gut motility will be functioning optimally)

Correcting an impairment in the brain-gut axis is so important, as many neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons & Alzheimer’s Disease have been linked to alterations in our gut microbiome and gut-brain axis.

One of the most common neuro-degenerative diseases, Parkinsons Disease, is referred to as an “alpha-synucleinopathy” – where a protein called alpha-synuclein builds up in between nerves which then can not communicate, and they begin degenerating off. The build-up of this protein leads to degenration which begins in two places:

1. The gut – people start to get gut degeneration

2. The olfactory bulb – people start losing their sense of smell.

The brain starts to degenerate, and since the majority of the brain’s output is at the pontine area where the vagus nerve lives, there is inevitably failure in the brain-gut axis at some point! Harnessing the vagus nerve should be a key treatment strategy for anyone predisposed or with an early diagnosis of any kind of neuro-degenerative diseases (including dementia). Alas, let’s get down to some of the key tools for firing up your vagus nerve and working from the brain down to ensure we are preventing and properly treating gut, mental health, autoimmune and neuro-degeneration!

GUIDE TO HARNESSING YOUR VAGUS NERVE:Dr. Kharrazian Has 3 Key Recommendations

1. Gargling – Take water, put it into the back of your throat and gargle to the point of tearing up. You must really work it out and gargle aggressively enough so that it makes your eyes tear, since the vagus is right next to an area called the superior salivatory nucleus, which causes you to tear. If this area of the brain isn’t functioning well you may have a hard time gargling, only being able to gargle for 3 or 4 second before having to spit it out. Build it up over time until you can do it for several minutes and you’re tearing consistently. This is how you activate it! Make this a daily routine. Gargling has been utilised in functional neurology for many years, e.g. people with head injuries.

2. Inducing Your Gag Reflex – Buy a box of tongue blades (can purchase online, e.g. through amazon), and use these to push down on the back of your tongue until you gag, which will make your eyes start to tear. Doing this activates the pathway, developing neural connections and getting plasticity going. Be careful not to push it on the back of your throat which could cause injury.

3. Coffee Enemas – NOT for ‘detox’ reasons, this tool is useful due to the caffeine which stimulates gastrointestinal nicotinic cholinergic receptors, which makes the gut move along. The key here is to get enough coffee so that you have to force yourself to SUPPRESS the urge to have a bowel movement – lay on your side and do the enema, and when you have an urge to have a bowel movement hang out there as long as you can, suppressing the urge. This fires the frontopontine vagal enteric axis.

Continually doing this builds endurance and starts to retrain the brain-gut axis. You want to ensure you are consuming a well-rounded, anti-inflammatory diet and taking digestive enzymes as well, as to not neglect the gut-brain pathway, whilst using the right techniques to training the brain-gut pathways. Singing is another fantastic remedy, which activates the vagal muscles in the back of your throat (you’ve got to sing loudly!)

And finally you must focus on utilising a range of lifestyle techniques, incorporating them into your schedule as they suit you, to ensure you are promoting your parasympathetic, “rest & digest” nervous system, to ensure optimal digestion & adequate blood flow to your digestive organs:

It might not seem like a typical ‘prescription,’ but please focus on incorporating these vagus nerve stimulating techniques if you have unresolved gut, autoimmune and mental health conditions (which may be overlapping), to ensure the brain-gut axis is working both ways!

Yours In Health

Steven Judge
Sydney Naturopath & Nutritionist
(02) 9211-3811
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