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In with Black Cumin Seed Oil, Out with Inflammation

Also known as black caraway and referenced in many scriptural texts, black cumin is a flowering plant found throughout Southwest Asia, parts of the Mediterranean and Africa. This magical oil has a long history of use in diverse culinary and medicinal traditions. Black seed oil is extracted from N. sativa seeds, and has been used in medicine for over 2,000 years due to its many therapeutic benefits. The uses for this natural remedy are all-encompassing. It would be a compliment to your arsenal of supplements, ointments, and aides.

Black seed oil has been used for a wide variety of health conditions across the continents. As a result, it has sometimes been referred to as a panacea, meaning ‘universal healer’. That is a big claim, but black cumin seeds have been used by traditional Arab, Asian, and African practitioners to support conditions such as digestive and respiratory problems, headaches, and bacterial infections. In addition to ingesting this oil that brandishes a pungent herbaceous flavor, it can be rubbed into joints and skin as an anti-inflammatory aid… and YES, it really works!

Black Cumin Seed Oil and Autoimmunity

Black cumin seed oil is known to help regulate overactive immune system responses that can cause things like allergies and inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. These conditions can include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few. The most abundant and active component in black cumin seed oil is thymoquinone* (a phytochemical compound found in the plant), which attributes to these benefits: 

  • Enhancement of the immune response (T regulatory cells)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Liver support
  • Anti-tumor
  • Anti-cancer
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-parasitic
  • Hypoglycemic
  • Antihypertensive
  • Anti-asthmatic

*Contraindications for Thymoquinone: Pregnancy, bleeding disorders: might increase the risk of bleeding by slowing blood clotting and 15 days before and after surgery.

Black cumin seed oil has been shown to beneficially affect the immune system by increasing the count and stimulating activity of some T-regulatory immune cells and, most notably, lowering levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. You may be familiar with the recent news of triggering cytokine storms and the havoc it can wreak on our immune systems.

Suppress the Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your throat below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s functions. Black cumin oil may support Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This study found that the group given black seed oil saw reductions in body weight and BMI, as well as improvements in thyroid-related measures such as T3 and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The researchers concluded that, “Considering the observed health-promoting effect of this medicinal plant in improving the disease severity, it can be regarded as a useful therapeutic approach in management of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.”

Massage out Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels. Black seed oil has the potential to alter disease signaling pathways and provide protection against RA-induced symptoms, and also prevent liver and kidney damage in patients with RA. In 2011, The Journal of Cellular Biochemistry published a report on laboratory tests which showed the effectiveness of thymoquinone on RA-affected isolated human cell samples. Furthermore, 40 female patients with rheumatoid arthritis took 500 mg black seed oil capsule twice daily for one month and they reported suppression of disease progression with reduction of joint inflammation and improved morning stiffness.

Move more with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is most commonly described as an incurable inflammatory neurodegenerative chronic disease that has life altering effects. Black seed oil consumption by MS patients can be therapeutic by suppressing inflammation, enhancing re-myelination (coating the outside of the nerves), and reducing the expression of TGF β1 in rats. Research shows that TGF B-1 has a role in activation of autoimmunity as well as suppressing autoimmunity. 

Re-myelination is a process of making cells that create new myelin sheaths on the central nervous system (CNS). The brain, optic nerves, and spine (CNS) communicate with each other, and then the brain tells the body how to move, think, and talk. It’s no wonder those who suffer with multiple sclerosis symptoms struggle with movement. So  go ahead and take a swig, or rub some black cumin oil on those aches and pains.

What we recommend   

Andreas Black Seed Cumin Oil touts their product is the world’s most effective and powerful superfood on the planet. It is 100% cold-pressed and sealed in glass bottles. USDA Organic. Dr. Autoimmune is offering 15% off Andreas Black Seed Cumin Oil during the month of August 2021. Regularly $55.00 retail, On sale for $46.75 does not include shipping or tax. Local pickups are available. Give us a call for more information 303-882-8447, or fill out the form below and one of our staff will be in touch with you shortly.

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    HORMONES 101 Part 2: Estrogen Dominance

    In Part 1 of this series we covered cortisol, progesterone, and their relationship. Though the vast majority of hormones are made of protein, both of these are steroid hormones made of cholesterol. Estrogen is another steroid hormone. It is the main female sex hormone, but it also plays an important role in male bodies.

    Estrogen: The Breakdown

    Estrogen is responsible for most of the physical changes in the female body related to reproduction. It stores fat in certain areas leading to ‘curviness’, plumps skin, and grows the breasts and pubic hair in females. It also has other important functions such as improving immunity and memory, strengthening bones, controlling cholesterol levels, and maintaining a balanced mood. 

    The body makes three different types of estrogen:

    1. Estrone (E1) = the only estrogen produced after menopause
    2. Estradiol (E2) = main estrogen in females of reproductive age
    3. Estriol (E3) = produced during pregnancy

    The two main sex hormones (hormones involved in reproduction) in females are progesterone and estrogen. As we discussed before, progesterone dominates the second half of the menstrual cycle, maintaining the thick uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy. That thick uterine lining exists thanks to estrogen, who dominates the first half of the cycle. Here is that visual again to refresh your memory:

    A Finicky Relationship

    One of the most common hormonal imbalances seen in females is between progesterone and estrogen. This imbalance is known as estrogen dominance. In males, this presents as an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen. Even though estrogen does important things like keeping bones strong, the key to balanced health is balanced hormones! One of progesterone’s most important roles is to balance out estrogen after it gets ramped up during the first half of the menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels in the body are too high, you risk developing estrogen-related cancers and experience a range of symptoms.

    Because estrogen dominance describes the relationship between estrogen and progesterone, there are a few ways it can present. Estrogen levels could be normal, but if progesterone levels are low, you have estrogen dominance. The opposite can result in the same: If progesterone levels are normal, but estrogen levels are high, you have estrogen dominance.

    Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance

    If you menstruate, you may have experienced some (or all) of these symptoms. Though they are common in our society, they are likely the result of a hormone imbalance that you can get under control with proper nutrition and supplementation and the help of a functional medicine practitioner.

    Females:

    • Heavy or irregular periods
    • Water retention and swelling
    • Breast tenderness and breast changes
    • Headaches or migraines
    • Weight gain
    • Mood swings  
    • Painful periods
    • PMS symptoms
    • Fertility challenges
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Sugar cravings
    • Uterine fibroids (benign growths around or in the uterus)
    • Changes in memory and brain function
    • Cold hands and feet

    Males:

    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Infertility
    • Enlarged breasts
    • Depression

    Estrogen is created in the ovaries/testes, adrenal glands, and fat tissue. In normal amounts, it keeps our bodies well balanced. However, high amounts of fat tissue can result in extra production of estrogen, which in turn encourages more fat storage. This cycle can lead to unwanted weight gain. On top of that, estrogen has been shown to discourage the breakdown of fat cells, especially in the midsection (hips and waist).

    Estrogen dominance over time can lead to more serious health issues, such as heart attacks, breast or ovarian cancer, blood clots, and stroke.

    Estrogen and autoimmunity

    Estrogen is known to be an immune-enhancer, whereas androgens and progesterone are immune-suppressors. This is an important piece of information for people living with autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune diseases manifest when one’s immune system is overactive and starts to attack the body’s own tissue. In this case, having estrogen continue to ramp up your immune system is going to cause further damage. This is the reason that about 78% of people with autoimmune diseases are women.

    What causes estrogen dominance?

    High estrogen levels can be partially hereditary, but it can also be caused (or triggered) by external sources such as hormonal contraceptives, some antibiotics, and other medications, including the popular hormone replacement therapy used to ‘treat’ menopause symptoms. Other factors that contribute are gut dysbiosis, a low fiber diet, and alcohol consumption.  The most common mechanism we see in clinical practice is estrogen dominance due to insulin resistance.  When insulin is spiking to control blood sugar this creates fat cells and fat cells secrete more estrogen.  This in turn alters the ratios of hormones and can increase inflammation which impacts all areas of the body.  As this continues it’s almost like a train gaining steam without brakes.  The estrogen dominance then facilitates inflammation which in turn causes more insulin resistance (and on and on…).

    Another cause of estrogen dominance can be polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which we mentioned in Part 1 as a cause of low progesterone levels. PCOS can be caused by high levels of androgens (male hormones). Symptoms can include acne, facial hair or male pattern baldness in females. PCOS may be manageable through proper nutrition. One group of researchers studied women with PCOS and found that by decreasing the amount of refined carbohydrates in their diets, insulin sensitivity could be induced. Insulin sensitivity, being the opposite of insulin resistance, can help increase levels of progesterone and therefore decrease levels of estrogen.

    Insulin resistance promotes the enzyme aromatase, which converts androgens to estrogen. It also inhibits sex-hormone-binding globulin, resulting in more free estrogen. We’ll talk more extensively about insulin resistance in part 3 of this series.

    Excess fat, stress, impaired digestion and detoxification pathways, and external estrogen copy-cats such as xeno- and phytoestrogens can also lead to increased levels of estrogen. The body metabolizes hormones and gets rid of them through detoxification pathways. When these processes aren’t functioning properly (or genetic alterations are present), estrogen will remain in the body for long periods of time.

    Xenoestrogens are synthetic, man-made chemicals that resemble estrogen and act on estrogen receptors in the body. They are found in things like plastics, cosmetics (we absorb up to 60% of what we put on our skin!), and birth control pills. Phytoestrogens on the other hand, come from plants and have less of an impact (though still an impact!) on the body’s natural estrogen levels. Soy is the most common culprit in this family of estrogen disruptors.

    What’s next?

    The functional medicine approach to all hormone imbalances is represented in the pneumonic “PTSD”. Let’s apply it to estrogen!

    1. Production: 
      1. Estrogen is made in multiple places, but we can have the most control over our fat tissue. This does not mean that you need to eat less. Our bodies need to be nourished! Exercise and proper nutrition will help us control excess fat buildup.
      2. We can limit our exposure to external estrogen-like chemicals. Choosing clean cosmetics and organic foods is one way to reduce our intake of xenoestrogens. Avoiding foods like soy can reduce our intake of phytoestrogens.
    2. Transport
      1. More available estrogen as a result of dysregulated transportation pathways can lead to estrogen dominance.
    3. Sensitivity
      1. A cell’s sensitivity to a hormone may have an impact. For instance, a cell with a rigid membrane may not allow for estrogen to enter. When estrogen receptors are defective, it can result in an estrogen resistance condition and therefore more free estrogen.
    4. Detoxification
      1. If detoxification pathways are not functioning optimally and estrogen isn’t being excreted at a normal rate, that leaves more of it to cause an imbalance. We can provide our bodies with nutrients that support healthy digestion and a healthy liver for detoxing.

    If you suspect you may have estrogen dominance, you should consider meeting with a practitioner who understands how to identify root causes and will work with you to create a personalized plan for balancing your hormones. Contact us using the form below to get started!

    Stay tuned for Part 3 of our hormone series, where we will dive deeper into another very common hormone imbalance: insulin resistance.

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      HORMONES 101 Part 1: Cortisol & Progesterone

      Welcome to our hormone series! We hear all the time that people are curious about hormones, but their complexity makes understanding them a bit difficult. Because of this, we wanted to do a multi-part series covering some of our major hormones and how they interact with each other. We’ll start with cortisol and progesterone. Follow along for more!

      The human body is big, complicated, and extremely interconnected. Hormones are the signals our bodies use to communicate. Hormone balance is essential for maintaining and regulating your body’s systems. Your hormones all follow certain cycles of creation, usage, metabolism, and elimination. When one or more steps in the cycle are problematic, a domino effect can occur and cause a myriad of functional issues within the body’s systems. This results in symptoms like irritability, weight gain, acne, and painful or irregular periods in females.

      Nutrition and Hormone Signaling

      Nutritional factors can either help balance hormone levels or disturb them. For example, having consistent intake of selenium, iodine, and iron help to balance thyroid hormones.

      While environmental factors can affect hormone levels, we must also consider how they may impact hormone sensitivity. Some nutrition patterns can lead to our cells developing resistance to certain hormones; others may make them more sensitive. For example, some nutrition patterns could lead to rigid cell membranes, which can cause insulin resistance.

      Another example of diet affecting hormone sensitivity can be observed in the case of leptin, a hormone released from adipose (fat) tissue. Excess leptin (caused by excess fat) has been shown to disrupt cells’ leptin receptor pathways by overstimulating them. In other words, the more fat tissue is present, the more leptin is produced, so the more leptin receptors are bombarded. When the leptin cannot be received but is continuously produced, levels of environmental leptin will increase and continue to overstimulate cell receptor pathways in a vicious cycle called “leptin-induced leptin resistance” that can lead to obesity.

      Beyond nutritional factors, our hormone balance can be affected in other ways. Our bodies metabolize hormones the same way they do food. If these metabolic pathways are hindered, this will lead to imbalances.

      In functional medicine, hormone imbalance issues are approached with the Institute for Functional Medicine’s (IFM’s) mnemonic device “PTSD”. By identifying where the dysfunction is coming from, we find the areas where we can intervene. 

      “P” stands for Production, as in how much of the hormone is synthesized. 

      “T” stands for Transport, referring to the interaction of hormones with other cells and how they are distributed. 

      “S” stands for Sensitivity, which is the level of resistance a cell has to a hormone signal.

      “D” stands for Detoxification- how well the body metabolizes and eliminates hormones.

      Cortisol:

      Unlike most hormones, which are made primarily of protein, cortisol is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol and therefore more similarly resembles fat. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands, which are small organs located just above our kidneys. The adrenal glands are also responsible for the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and DHEA (which is a precursor to a couple other hormones).

      Cortisol functions on a diurnal cycle, which is one that occurs every 24 hours. It spikes at the beginning of the day upon waking and provides you with energy and alertness. Throughout the day, cortisol levels decrease until they are at their lowest point at the end of the night, allowing you to relax for bedtime.

      All hormones have effects on systems in the body, not just one process. This is why maintaining their rhythm/cycle is so important. Cortisol connects the brain and adrenal glands in a system that is mainly responsible for our body’s stress response. The hypothalamus in the brain uses a hormone to signal the pituitary gland to produce another hormone that signals the release of cortisol (yet another hormone). You can see how the intricate relationship between all of our hormones would cause a domino effect when one or more is knocked out of balance.

      What does it do?

      Have you ever used hydrocortisone cream or heard of someone getting a cortisone injection? These medical interventions utilize cortisol’s anti-inflammatory properties to treat inflammation locally. Cortisol also plays a role in metabolism, raises blood sugar, regulates blood pressure, supports bone health, impacts mental health, and as we already discussed, maintains a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

      What affects cortisol levels?

      Acute and chronic stress can cause fluctuations during cortisol’s daily cycle. Anything from losing a loved one to driving in traffic can cause an impact. Stress does not need to be external, though. Internal stress factors include injuries, inflammation, microbiome imbalances, over-exercising, and exposure to toxins. This strong relationship led to cortisol’s nickname “the stress hormone”.

      The internal stress factors I mentioned can be largely impacted by diet. Caffeine is known to raise cortisol levels and keep the body in a state of fight or flight, which can also increase inflammation in the body. (Check out this blog to read more about caffeine and cortisol.) Studies have suggested a link between increased cortisol levels and a Western diet consisting of saturated fats, simple sugars, and less fiber.

      When an abnormal growth is present on the adrenal or pituitary gland (both components of the cortisol production system), extremely high levels of cortisol can result. This condition usually results in Cushing’s disease over time. Addison’s disease results from the exact opposite: extremely low levels of cortisol over time due to autoimmunity.

      Functional medicine practitioners regularly test cortisol levels and identify and remove disruptors by learning about their patients’ individual situations.

      Progesterone

      Progesterone is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol, just like cortisol. It is calming, anti-inflammatory, and sleep-promoting. Its balance is more of a concern for females than males because of its importance during the second half of the menstrual cycle.

      Progesterone is produced in the ovaries after ovulation. Its job is to maintain the thick uterine lining created by estrogen during the first half of the cycle and keep the uterus ready for pregnancy. If the egg isn’t fertilized after ovulation, progesterone levels drop and trigger menstruation (the shedding of the thick uterine lining). Progesterone is not created without ovulation.

      Low Progesterone

      Low levels of progesterone can cause symptoms such as PMS, anxiety, fatigue, low fertility, low libido, and migraines. Causes of this condition could include stress, age, estrogen dominance, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and inflammation.

      At Dr. Autoimmune, we use the wonderful and comprehensive DUTCH test to monitor hormone levels. Contact us using the form at the bottom of this page if you are interested in pursuing this test. We use natural methods to increase progesterone levels, such as enriching the diet with zinc-rich foods and supplementing with magnesium, vitamin B6, and herbs. Check out this case study to read a bit about an actual patient’s experience with hormone testing and how it helped with her case.

      The Progesterone-Cortisol Connection

      You may have noticed that stress can impact the production of both cortisol and progesterone, but in opposite directions. Stress increases cortisol production, but decreases progesterone production. Why is this?

      Cortisol follows the HPA-axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis), and progesterone follows the HPO-axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-ovary axis). When the hypothalamus perceives stress, it makes a decision to prioritize survival over reproduction and decreases the production of reproductive hormones. It is a mechanism our bodies created in order to avoid becoming pregnant during times of famine or war.

      Progesterone also plays an important role in balancing estrogen, another sex hormone. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will dive into this relationship and the concept of estrogen dominance!

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        Caffeine Percolates Cortisol

        Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive stimulant drug on the planet. It is addictive, so the body and brain begin to rely on the feeling that caffeine can provide. Although there are some benefits to drinking caffeine (most actually come from the polyphenols found in coffee beans or tea leaves), there are also negative side effects. When dealing with autoimmune disease, it’s likely the brain is already in a state of fight or flight and the effect caffeine has on the body will make that stress worse. Caffeine is known to increase the body’s levels of cortisol, “the stress hormone,” which can lead to other health consequences like anxiety, weight gain, depressed mood, lowered beneficial bacteria in the gut, and even diabetes.

        Why do we want to avoid excess stress hormones?

        In order to decrease inflammation in the body and reduce autoimmune symptoms, it’s vital to avoid stress as much as possible. Excess stress hormones can keep our body on high alert and our immune system active. High levels of cortisol can also affect our blood sugar. “Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels,” (Today’s Dietician).  If you are consuming caffeine throughout the day, you may be elevating those stress hormones and impacting your immune system. 

        The Role of Cortisol & Sleep

        Cortisol is an essential hormone we need in order to live, have energy, stay alert, and stay motivated in our lives. Although we describe it as the “stress hormone,” it does have an important role in our body. When testing our hormones, cortisol levels should be at our highest in the morning and slowly lower throughout the day. When our body is stressed, those levels of cortisol are consistently high, which can cause a number of health issues. The gradual decrease in cortisol each day is what helps us feel relaxed in the evening in order to get proper sleep. Caffeine at any time of the day, for someone already dealing with chronic stress, can contribute to those high levels of cortisol in the evening making it very difficult to sleep.

        It’s important to get seven to nine hours of sleep in order for our body to properly detoxify and heal. High levels of cortisol can contribute to insomnia throughout the evening that keeps you from getting into deep levels of restorative sleep.  You need to ask yourself a few questions before buying that quad shot in the dark:

        1) Do you feel anxious, jittery or “jacked up” from consumption of caffeine? 

        2) Do you get lightheaded, especially coming from seated to standing after caffeine consumption?

        3) Do you notice fluctuations in blood sugar symptoms such as irritability, fatigue or craving of sugar with caffeine consumption? 

        These symptoms may be byproducts of caffeine consumption, or at the very least they may be from excessive consumption or consuming this chemical later in the day.   

        Products to help you transition to caffeine-free:

        • Rasa: Here at Dr. Autoimmune, we have an herbal adaptogenic beverage called Rasa that supplies that boost of energy you may need to get you going in the AM or PM without the stressful side effects. Adaptogens are herbs that protect you from stress rather than create more of it. Right now we are offering 15% off all Rasa products, so stop by our office to grab a bag before the promotion ends!
        • Headache Soother Tincture: Withdrawals are possible when quitting caffeine without slowly reducing it over time. If it’s important to quit quickly, there are tinctures we can provide to aid in symptoms like headaches or fatigue.
          • If you don’t have a Fullscript account, click here to create one.