The sudden lack of control is frightening when a dizzy spell, or vertigo, hits you. The world spins and rocks, the ground feels like it’s giving way, your ears ring, and nausea may grip your gut.
Vertigo feels terribly wrong and frightening and understandably has people worrying, “Why do I get dizzy?”
Several things can cause vertigo. it’s important to understand the underlying cause of your dizzy spells to improve your success in addressing them.
Before looking for underlying causes, first figure out what type of vertigo you have.
Peripheral vertigo and dizzy spells
The most common reason for dizziness is usually an inner ear, or vestibular, problem, which plays an important role in balance. Peripheral means on the outside, indicating this is not a brain-based vertigo, but instead peripheral vertigo.
Common causes of inner ear problems include:
BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo): A small crystal is floating loose in the wrong area of the inner ear, causing dizziness. This can be treated with the Epley maneuver.
Vestibular neuronitis and labryinthitis: Nerves in the inner ear associated with balance becomes inflamed, usually due to infection. Using functional medicine and functional neurology approaches to address the infection and inflammation often help.
Meniere’s disease: A chronic inner ear disorder that also causes hearing loss and tinnitus and tends to progressively worsen. Functional medicine autoimmune protocols have been known to help; conventional approaches include medications and surgery in severe cases.
In addition to dizziness, other common symptoms of peripheral vertigo include nausea, vomiting, sweating, pain or fullness in the ear, hearing loss, or tinnitus (ringing in the ear). The vertigo comes and goes and fixing your eyes on a point can help stop the spinning.
Central vertigo and dizzy spells
Central vertigo refers to dizziness caused by brain issues. These causes can be more serious and difficult to treat than most cases of peripheral vertigo.
One distinguishing factor of central vertigo is that fixing your eyes on one spot does not help relieve dizziness. Also, central vertigo episodes are more intense and last longer. Although hearing is not as affected as it is in peripheral vertigo, people often experience headaches, trouble swallowing, and weakness.
Factors known to cause central vertigo include head injury, illness, infection, multiple sclerosis, migraines, brain tumors, stroke, transient ischemic attacks (mini strokes), and neurological autoimmunity.
How functional medicine and functional neurology can help address dizziness and vertigo
The first step is to identify what type of vertigo you have and what is causing it. This may involve lab testing to identify chronic inflammation, a blood sugar imbalance, an autoimmune reaction, or other health disorders.
For instance, multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys nerve sheaths, can cause vertigo. An autoimmune protocol and functional neurology rehabilitation exercises can help.
Another example is when a head injury causes vertigo—a nutritional and dietary protocol to support brain healing along with functional neurology may help profoundly.
Vertigo is the symptom, not the disease
Your dizzy spells are a symptom of something else. Through functional lab testing, examination, and clinical history, we can help you address your problems with vertigo.
Millions of people drink diet soda in the belief they’re preventing weight gain, and the soda industry invests millions of dollars to perpetuate this belief. Research, however, paints a different picture — diet sodas are dangerous and can make you fat.
Artificial, low-calorie sweeteners used in diet sodas confuse the body and derange its ability to metabolize sugar and carbohydrates. This “confusion” increases hunger and sugar cravings.
Also, artificial sweeteners create imbalances in gut bacteria boosting the bacteria that turn calories into body fat, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and inflammation.
Diet sodas bring bigger risks than obesity
The health risks associated with diet soda are far more serious than weight gain.
The primary sweetener used in diet sodas, aspartame (which goes by the benign-sounding names Equal and NutraSweet), has been linked to numerous cardiovascular conditions, including stroke, heart failure, and heart attack.
In fact, a nine-year study of 60,000 women showed women who drank two or more cans of diet soda a day were 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease.
Moreover, aspartame overstimulates the brain chemical dopamine, which over time can result in depression, migraine headaches, and seizures.
The other FDA-approved artificial sweeteners — saccharin, neotame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium — have also been linked to increased risk for heart disease and other health conditions.
Aspartame is a controversial topic. It has been linked to myriad health conditions, some as serious as brain tumors, birth defects, cancer, and memory loss, and is behind numerous complaints to the FDA. However, industry science holds fast to its safety.
Fruit juice is not a healthy substitute
Unfortunately, fruit juice is not a healthy substitute for soda. Fructose is every bit as fattening and inflammatory as sugar or chemical sweeteners. Excessive consumption of fruit juice also puts you at risk of heart disease and diabetes.
In contrast, eating whole fruit also has you consuming fiber, enzymes, minerals and other healthful compounds stripped away by juicing. Also, chewing tells your brain that you’ve eaten, which reduces your appetite.
If you are addicted to diet sodas (as many people are), you may have to wean yourself gradually. Begin by substituting sparkling water with lemon or lime juice, or even just plain water, for some of your sweet drinks. Often when you think you want something sweet, you’re really just thirsty, and plain filtered water will do you fine.
With patience, you can develop an automatic preference for whole, healthy, unsweetened foods and drinks, largely because they make you feel better. After a while, the foods you crave most can actually be those that are best for your body.
Ask my office about transitioning to a whole foods diet so you can feel and function your best.
Good balance is the key to lasting brain function
While phone apps and online programs that exercise the brain are popular to improve memory, most people overlook a key component to lasting brain function: your balance.
Your brain requires good balance to stay sharp and lower the risk of dementia. In addition to doing brain exercises, make sure you regularly challenge and improve your balance.
How good balance improves brain function
What does good balance have to do with preserving memory and brain function?
The cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain, governs balance, as well as precision, coordination, and timing.
It makes sure you can walk upright, put a spoon to your mouth, or hit a tennis ball. The movements of daily life keep the cerebellum in a constant state of activity.
It’s this constant activity that keeps the rest of the brain on its toes. A healthy cerebellum feeds the brain a steady stream of information to keep it actively firing and healthy. (This is also one reason regular physical activity is so vital to brain health and function.)
Bad balance leads to bad brain function
This explains why symptoms of cerebellum degeneration, such as bad balance, often tie into loss of memory, poor ability to learn, and weakened brain endurance. The brain isn’t getting enough “juice" from the cerebellum to keep it charged and running well.
Brain overwhelm from bad balance
At the same time, if a certain area of the cerebellum degenerates, this can overwhelm the brain with information.
The outer area of the cerebellum serves as a gatekeeper, regulating information that travels from the body to the brain. When this area of the cerebellum degenerates, the gates are left unguarded, and too much sensory input floods the brain.
Symptoms may include restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and others that you wouldn’t think could be related to balance.
Can you pass this balance test?
How to improve your balance and hence your brain health
Since we know regular exercise is a must to preserve brain function, look for forms that emphasize balance. Ideas include specific balance exercises, yoga, tai chi, stand-up paddle boarding dancing, and the use of a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe and work within your limits!
Good balance is only part of a bigger brain puzzle
Good cerebellum health is important, but it’s not the end all. The inner ear, or vestibular system, also plays a vital role in balance and may need attention if your balance is off.
Also, screening for gluten sensitivity is important, as a gluten intolerance degenerates the cerebellum in many people.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce stressors if you have balance issues. The brain and cerebellum are very sensitive to inflammation from junk foods, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and more.
And make sure you keep your blood sugar stable — blood sugar that is constantly too low or too high (or both) rapidly ages the brain and contributes to poor balance.
Contact my office if you’d like more information on how your balance is related to your brain function.
Medical advice following a concussion is straightforward: Get plenty of rest, avoid stimulating the brain, and don’t return to regular activities until your brain can handle it.
But a concussion is a much bigger deal than people realize, and there is plenty more you can do to improve brain recovery after a concussion.
Lower inflammation after a concussion
Your diet following a concussion is more important than ever before. You want to focus your efforts on reducing inflammation in the brain.
The immune system in the brain is different than the body’s. The body’s immune system has mechanisms to shut off an immune attack when it’s no longer needed.
The brain’s immune system, however, has no off switch. A concussion can result in unchecked inflammation that slows recovery and continues to destroy healthy brain cells long after the concussion.
This is why concussions can increase the risk of gut problems, depression, suicide brain issues, and other health disorders.
A healthy post-concussion eating plan
Studies have firmly established the link between diet, gut health, and brain health. What you eat after a concussion matters greatly. Here is an overview of brain healing strategies:
Stabilize blood sugar. Blood sugar that is too low or too high inflames the brain. Cut out sugars and starchy carbs and eat frequently enough to keep energy stable (but don’t overeat).
Remove inflammatory foods. Gluten and dairy are inflammatory to the brain in many people. Undiagnosed food intolerances, such as to corn, eggs, soy, or other foods can inflame the brain. MSG and artificial sweeteners are toxic to the brain and should be avoided, too.
Improve gut bacteria diversity. A slew of studies recently established a link between brain health and the bacteria in your gut. Now is the time to build a healthy gut microbiome.
Eat good fats. The brain is made primarily of fat, so it’s important to eat healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, cold water fish, and nuts and seeds.
Follow an anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet. It’s best to follow the autoimmune diet as it focuses on lowering inflammation and healing the gut, two things that will help heal the brain. Just make sure you eat enough to sustain energy and blood sugar.
This is a general overview of post-concussion nutrition. For more detailed advice, contact my office.
A healthy post-concussion protocol
Fortunately, certain herbal compounds are effective in reducing brain inflammation. They include apigenin, luteolin, baicalein, resveratrol, rutin, catechin, and curcumin.
Nutrients that improve oxygen flow to the brain also aid recovery. They include feverfew, butcher’s broom, ginkgo biloba, huperzine, and vinpocetine.
Additionally, supporting the omega-3 fatty acid DHA and the body’s master oxidant, glutathione, is helpful.
Lifestyle factors that can aid brain recovery include identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases and chronic infections, and stabilizing hormones (especially in perimenopausal or postmenopausal women).
These are some foundations that can make the difference between a downward spiral after a concussion or the beginning to a more brain-healthy way of living.
If your life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask my office how we can help.
If you’re like most people, you over indulged during the holidays and now you’d like to reboot your health with a detox diet. The autoimmune diet calms inflammation, stimulates repair and recovery, and boosts energy while preventing hunger. It also helps tame autoimmunity and repair leaky gut.
Remove foods that cause inflammation
Many foods people eat daily can be inflammatory, causing fatigue, rashes, joint pain, digestive issues, headaches, anxiety, depression, autoimmune flare ups, and more.
The foods most people react to are gluten, dairy, various grains, eggs, nuts, and nightshades. Sugar, sweeteners, and sweet fruits also cause inflammation.
The autoimmune detox diet calms inflammation
People new to this diet often wonder if there is anything left to eat. There is plenty to eat on the autoimmune diet! In fact, the autoimmune diet more closely resembles what people have eaten for most of human history.
The diet is based on grass-fed and organic meats, wild fish, healthy fats, fermented foods, and lots of veggies. Eating plenty of vegetables will help build good gut bacteria, detoxify the liver, and boost immune health and tolerance of more foods.
Healthy fats include coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and ghee (if tolerated). Avoid processed vegetable oils and strictly avoid hydrogenated oils, or trans fats.
The rewards of feeling better outweigh the downsides of the diet
The autoimmune detox diet is certainly more work than eating fast food or microwave meals. But the rewards in how much better it will make you feel are worth the effort.
This diet requires planning and preparation. You may experience cravings, low energy, and some detox symptoms for a few days in the beginning. Online support groups can be very reassuring and helpful.
However, it doesn’t take long before most people feel an increase in energy and well being and actually come to enjoy the diet. Many also lose unwanted fat.
After following the diet for 30 to 90 days, you may wish to add in some of the eliminated foods — one at a time every 72 hours — to see whether you react to any of them. This will help you customize a lifelong diet that is healthy but satisfying. Many find going off at least gluten and dairy bring substantial health benefits.
Supplements to enhance detoxification and gut repair
Certain nutritional compounds can aid in your health reboot. Some are great at supporting liver detoxification, gut repair, blood sugar balance, and stress handling, all of which can aid you in your new diet. Just call my office for advice.
Foods to avoid on the autoimmune detox diet
Foods to eat