Integrative Medicine

7 Healthy Habits and 7 Functional Medicine tricks to hit 120!

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: July 7, 2021
7 Healthy Habits and 7 Functional Medicine tricks to hit 120!

What are Healthy Habits?

Every time I write a “what’s new” type of article, I hope the reader is up to speed with the basics of a healthy lifestyle and has at least a foundation of healthy habits for eating, exercise, and sleep. These are the real basics when we discuss healthy habits. Everyone wants to live a life absent from disease and frailty, a new term coined as a “healthspan” rather than a mere lifespan. Let me share with you the Functional Medicine developments that have taken hold as dogma over the last couple of years, making the following issues the basis of how you will (hopefully) augment your healthy habits with Functional Medicine “tricks” for a healthspan lasting until you’re 120!

Here are the healthy habits we’ll cover:

  1. Healthy eating plans
  2. Intermittent Fasting and Timed Eating Intervals
  3. Exercise guidelines
  4. Sleep updates
  5. Microbiome health
  6. Mitochondrial health
  7. NAD enhancement
  8. How to keep your mood elevated and your cognition sharp
  9. CBD and Medical Marijuana
  10. Lighting and EMF’s
  11. Augmenting your hormones
  12. Controlling your cortisol
  13. Do we need to detox?
  14. Proper peptide usage
  15. More Emerging therapies

What should I eat to follow a healthy lifestyle? 

When I discuss the very basics of healthy habits, I’m not talking about “not smoking” or “achieve and maintain a normal weight,” which I believe are “givens” to everyone reading this article. However, what exactly constitutes a healthy lifestyle eating plan is up for discussion. You all know, as an example, that the more processed a given “edible” is, the less healthy it is for you. Most of you know that sugar (and for some: salt) needs to be kept at a minimum. I hope you know that non-GMO is the way to go, as is organic, non-factory-farmed meat, wild-caught (not farmed) fish, and minimal to no “fast foods” are best unless the industry makes huge changes.

I have covered the concepts of oxidative stress ( basically the opposite of your levels of antioxidants), inflammation regarding your food choices. Notably, I’ll outline each diet plan as healthy choices to be low in inflammatory foods and, if done right, high in anti-oxidant foods. I’m not going to cover basic supplementation in this article but let me re-iterate that a good multi-vitamin, high in antioxidants, with an accompanying fish oil supplement twice daily is a basic recommendation. Vitamin D is another widely accepted basic supplement. And then, some supplements augment immune function, which can all be found here. Here are the diet plans getting the most “press.”

Plant-based Diet

Plant-based dietary patterns include a Mediterranean and Nordic diet pattern, the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH), Portfolio diet, and vegetarian- or vegan-type diet patterns. Plant-based diets- especially when rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, have been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (CVD) and are recommended for both health and environmental benefits.

I am very much on board with the benefits to the environment, not to mention the abolition of factory farming. However, the association between changing to a plant-based diet and overall mortality remains unclear. Studies have not borne out any consistent associations between changes in plant-based diet indices and cancer mortality as a stark example. My only reservation to an entirely plant-based diet, as most are currently constructed, is that they are filled with lectins which we know cannot be tolerated by those with autoimmune disease, with the full jury being out on the rest of the population.

Keto Diet

Many of you are on the “keto kick” or want to eat a keto diet plan, but it’s not a good idea to eat this way “all the time” without a break. Why? Because long term, uninterrupted keto eating is thought to lead to a less diverse and therefore less healthy microbiome. Eating “keto” works for weight loss and diabetic control quite nicely. When you are eating a keto diet, it’s best to stop for the weekend every couple of weeks for the health of your gut. Long-term, when you are “keto-adapted,” you can go in and out of being ketotic at will. Now, this said, I’m not saying everyone should eat this way. However, if you have tried other ways to lose weight that have not been successful, this appears to be a great way to lose body fat, especially if it’s due to high leptin levels. A full explanation is found in the article referenced above.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

The healthiest diet (IMHO) is still a basic anti-inflammatory diet that excludes sugar and focuses on whole, organic foods. The latest twist in anti-inflammatory eating is avoiding lectins–especially gluten, most grains, beans, and all but high-fat dairy, preferably A2 dairy. As mentioned previously, all of the data isn’t complete regarding lectin restriction, but in my opinion, they are harmful to most.

AIP Diet

For those with leaky gut or any autoimmune disease, an autoimmune protocol diet is recommended. This AIP diet is also great for weight loss for those who can’t tolerate “going keto.”

The fashionable plant-based eating plan is actually how I used to eat (fully vegan) and what I try to maintain about two-thirds of the week with plant-based, AIP meals. However, with zero fish or eggs, I can’t get enough protein since grains and beans are off my list. If you haven’t tried it, nutritional yeast (I like Bragg’s) is a cheesy tasting topping that adds protein to veggie dishes, almond meal pasta, and more. Also, creative companies and Etsy bakers are making all sorts of tasty dishes with nut powders substituting for grains, making this diet much more palatable than it was 10 years ago.

Paleo Diet

I like this diet: it excludes the most potent nasty lectins; gluten, grains, beans, and dairy. However, I’m not too fond of the whopping amount of animal protein this diet not only allows but recommends. First, too much animal protein “jacks up” your omega-6 fatty acid load to make your omega 6:3 ratio way too high; into the “inflammatory zone.” Next, research shows we eat too much protein as it is. Protein helps build muscles, but it also stimulates the mTOR pathway too continuously, which might increase your risk of certain cancers. Lastly, with methane being a significant source of greenhouse gas, the amount of grain necessary to create beef (as well as chicken) is shocking. In my humble opinion, it is dangerous for the people on the planet to be consuming the amount of meat that Americans tend to consume; Paleo diet or no Paleo diet.

Modified Pescatarian Diet

My “vote” goes towards a Modified Pescatarian diet, which is anti-inflammatory and low in lectins. This diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that includes fish and a little bit of high-fat dairy; while recommending avoiding grains (other than sorghum), beans, and most dairy products. It’s fairly close to being an AIP diet plan.

I’ve heard about fasting, but it’s too hard! 

Unless you have been sleeping underneath a giant pizza, you have heard about fasting, and no, it is not a “fad.” Numerous studies show that it is anti-inflammatory to the point where some forward-thinking trauma centers are “fasting” acute trauma victims. In addition, studies show it assists with weight loss and maintenance, metabolic syndromes, cardiac disease, brain health, and mitochondrial health. The different intermittent fasting schedules include time-restricted feeding (TRF), true intermittent fasting (IF), different caloric intakes for fasting, and fasting mimicry (which is relatively new and, to me-not proved.) I’ll focus here on what works and what’s absolutely “doable.”

Time-restricted eating is doable, meaning you can fit it into your daily lifestyle and not have to count calories or “go hungry.” However, let me interject here that most Americans are not used to “feeling hungry” for long; I would suggest that you tune in to how you feel when your GI tract doesn’t have to work hard all day. As a result, you might find that you have more energy and mental clarity.

What’s the perfect “eating schedule?” According to studies, a 16/8 schedule of timed eating is superior, but a 14/10 (so doable!) schedule is pretty darned good as well. You can have black coffee in the morning and then decide when your eight or 10-hour window of food consumption should be. Ideally (primarily for optimal glymphatic “cleaning” in the brain while you sleep), you should be food and beverage free four hours before you go to sleep. My personal eating window is noon-eight o’clock PM. As a final word, caloric restriction is indeed one of the healthy habits to cultivate, and you can accomplish pretty close to what you need by doing a one-day-per-week “low protein day” and use that same day to skip dinner. You’ll awaken feeling great-try it!

How little exercise can I do to be healthy and active?

Each type of exercise (cardio, HIIT, stretching, forms of yoga, and strength training) has a place in your fitness routine. However, current research shows cardiovascular benefits, weight maintenance benefits, brain, bone, muscle mass, and other benefits as follows.

You can take your dog for a brisk walk five days a week for 30 minutes and do two or three (six minutes minimum high intensity) HIIT routines, and cardio-wise, you’re “good to go.” Stretching routines can be as little as five minutes twice weekly, depending on your flexibility. Strength training can be seriously streamlined down to twice weekly, with a good one-set-per-body-part routine like this. Contrary to popular belief (and Fitbit marketers), you do not need to take 10,000 steps per day. Studies have shown no benefit comparing 2,000-4,000 steps to 10,000.

Do I really need 8 hours of sleep?  

Other than the rare few people who have demonstrable genetics, along with others in their family showing that indeed they can “get by” on four or five hours of sleep per night, less than eight hours is woefully inadequate for proper bodily repair during the night. Studies have shown that a majority of Americans are not getting enough good quality sleep.

What’s new is using products such as liposomal GABA to stop brain-race and help both sleep initiation and re-sleeping problems. The use of melatonin seems to be somewhat controversial in the “mainstream” medical literature. However, in the Functional literature, it is well established as a sleep aid and an immune booster as well as a brain booster. Liposomal preparations are useful (combined with GABA preparations) for re-sleeping issues, especially in patients with posterior pituitary problems that cause low MSH, such as all patients with toxin exposures, including (mainly) those with mold and mycotoxin illness. For the severe insomniacs, which tend to include mold and mycotoxins patients, we have a very effective peptide called DSIP.

DSIP: (Trp‐‐‐Ala‐Gly‐Gly‐Asp‐Ala‐Ser‐‐‐Gly‐Glu)

Delta sleep-inducing peptide (DSIP) is quite remarkably effective when used for severe insomnia. Research findings in humans are yet sparse, but in several clinical studies, a few weeks of nightly administration of this peptide resulted in the resolution of previously intractable insomnia.

What’s new in microbiome health? 

The human microbiome comprises 10–100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells with unique genes, principally from bacteria (and some yeast) in the gut. Our “bad” or unhealthy gut bacteria, of which we have up to ten times more than human cells, thrive on the things that create inflammation in our body, including sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats, and processed foods (to name the biggest offenders.)

These 100 trillion “bugs” send out chemical messages to the brain to influence our gut health, overall health, and mood. To have a healthy body and brain, you need a healthy gut. Breaches in the gut-brain barrier (from “leaky gut”) are responsible for all sorts of brain-related issues. I’m going to assume you are aware of the importance of gut protection, prebiotic fiber, and so on. A review of that information can be found in the previously cited immune health article.

What’s rather new data regarding microbiome health is the proof that a more diverse microbiome tends to lead to better health. The latest data regarding microbiome diversity is in the arenas of prebiotics (the fertilizer) and probiotics (the seeds).

Prebiotics

Prebiotic fiber comprises non-digestible carbohydrate compounds found in fibrous foods that assist in the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Foods, spices, and supplements high in polyphenols appear to promote gut diversity. Hazelnuts, berries, dark chocolate, cloves, red onions, and artichokes are good polyphenols sources. The ECGC in green tea supplements, as well as grape seed extract, are good polyphenol-rich supplements. Evidence is emerging in favor of using fructooligosaccharides as prebiotic supplement powder or in foods.

Onions, leeks, and scallion, as well as chicory, garlic, asparagus, unripe banana, artichoke, are great “gut foods.” They are all thought to assist gut health by producing healthy-gut-bug-food such as butyrate. Speaking of which, if you cook with either ghee or MCT oil, you’ll increase your gut butyrate production.

Probiotics

Regarding probiotics, we like to give a nice multi-strain mixture of the bifidobacterium and lactobacillus probiotics to our patients. However, long-term, especially for those with inflammatory bowel disease or even irritable bowel disease (or possibly “everyone”), sporulating probiotics are probably a better choice. The two types of sporulating probiotics being most closely studied are two in the bacillus species; bacillus subtilis and bacillus coagulans.

How do I help my mitochondria?  

Mitochondria produce energy as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which your body then uses as fuel. Some cells have more mitochondria than others. Your brain and heart cells are jam-packed with mitochondria, as are your muscles. You want your mitochondria working at full strength to keep your energy levels up, your brain sharp, and your heart and muscles at peak performance. The creation of new mitochondria is crucial for optimal and vibrant aging. As we age, we need to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis with activities and supplements actively. There is great data for even “crazy-sounding” things such as IV and intra-rectal ozone!

This article should help make your life no less “livable” while you develop more healthy habits, so here are behaviors everyone should have as a part of their “mitochondrial health program.” Cold is your friend. If it’s winter where you live, go outside until you shiver once or twice a day. If you live in the tropics (as I do), when you take your hot shower, turn the water to cold at the end and stand under it for about one minute to produce a shiver. And if you really want to “get into it,” get a $99 ice vest online; it feels great to wear it for 20 minutes after a workout. Next, recall the section above on exercise, and be aware that it’s the HIIT that stimulates your mitochondria. Lastly, choose good supplements for your regimen so that your mitochondria are getting a daily workout from all angles. Here is one mitochondrial supplement we should all be taking, and yes, I am.

What’s all the buzz about NAD? 

Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is one of the most important chemicals in our bodies. It is necessary for over 500 enzymatic reactions, and it plays a vital role in regulating almost every major biological process. For example, healthspan-promoting activities, including caloric restriction, fasting, and exercise, increase NAD+ levels in our body. Research findings suggest that increased NAD+ levels help counteract the effects of a poor diet, promote mitochondrial health, improve several well-known markers of cardiovascular health, and slow the aging process in the body and the brain.

NAD+ (which can be given IV, sub-Q, and intra-nasally) and its related molecules, nicotinamide riboside, and nicotinamide mononucleotide have been put into popular nomenclature thanks to Dr. David Sinclair (Harvard researcher with a best selling book which touts his research findings). He discloses that he has a financial interest in some supplement companies, but that certainly doesn’t discount his discoveries.

A growing body of research from Dr. Sinclair’s lab plus multiple other labs suggests that exogenous sources of NAD+ precursors, so-called NAD+ “boosters” – nicotinamide riboside and nicotinamide mononucleotide – increase cellular levels of NAD+. The implications for health and cellular age “reversal” are just astounding. Moreover, it is more than proven in mouse studies.

I use doctors-only NAD+ products for my patients administered intra-nasally and via sub-q injection- these are the “strongest” and will activate stem cells the most efficiently. However, I also prescribe a gram per day of nicotinamide mononucleotide for energy-on-demand, mitochondrial support and to help treat mitochondrially-based diseases.

What’s new in brain health? 

Recall that the brain is loaded with mitochondria, so do “take away” that any NAD boost is helping the brain. There has been more evidence linking poor sleep to dementia, so those of you not getting good, restful sleep should do something about it! In addition, the role of the glymphatic system of “nocturnal brain cleaning” has been elucidated even more over the last year. To emphasize again, leaving a good “window” between food or beverages and sleep onset is crucial for optimal glymphatic system function. And so is “good sleep.”

In the “brain supplements we know” department, we have learned that the optimal dose of daily oral resveratrol supplementation to boost BDNF is one gram per day. The evidence is now solid that those of us who avoid depression as we age fare better cognitively. This is an entire topic in itself, but for this article, let me discuss the peptide semax.

Heptapeptide Semax: (Met-Glu-His-Phe-Pro-Gly-Pro)

Semax is considered a nootropic peptide due to its ability to increase BDNF-brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It has also been shown to increase precursors to both dopaminergic and serotoninergic precursors, thus boosting mood. More definitive mood research is needed, but it’s looking terrific thus far. Next, a huge shout-out to the major BDNF-booster peptide called dihexa, given as an oral capsule in varying strengths. And then, there is the evolving data on VIP, a peptide given as an intra-nasal spray.

VIP:

Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is an important modulatory peptide throughout the CNS, acting as a neurotransmitter, neurotrophic or neuroprotective factor. In the hippocampus, a brain area implicated in learning and memory processes, VIP has a crucial role in controlling GABAnergic transmission, which appears to impact hippocampal-dependent cognition positively. It is currently used in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, including mild cognitive impairment and CIRS, but I anticipate we’ll be using it as another nootropic peptide soon.

Do I need CBD? Is marijuana use healthy?

For years, we have known that the endocannabinoid system has receptors all over the brain, nervous system, and immune system. It very well may be that everyone would benefit from some whole hemp-CBD1 and 2 receptor supplementation as we all age. The data appears to support its usefulness in boosting immune function and brain health, including treatment of TBI (traumatic brain injury.) Right now, we know that CBD1-whole hemp supplementation is useful for pain and sleep. We know that certain types of CBD are useful for some seizures, and other types are useful for anxiety.

Medical marijuana and, in fact, marijuana, in general, has become quite a political topic. While I favor decriminalization, I do not favor “blanket legalization,” and here is why. The “pot” that existed in the marketplace 30-40 years ago had multiples less THC than the recreational or medical marijuana contains now in 2021. The amount dispensed from all sources used by consumers most definitely does what mom told you pot did—it kills brain cells. 

Anyway, yes, THC is indeed useful for some clinical applications such as chemotherapy-induced nausea. But, otherwise, it’s the CBD in medical marijuana supplying a therapeutic effect, with rare exceptions. I have looked at the ratios of THC and CBD in medical marijuana preparations and studied the recreational market. But, unfortunately, at this time, there is no “brain safe” marijuana out there that I see or that I have read about in the literature.

If formulations of marijuana can be cultivated to contain less THC and more CBD, they may be less harmful to our brains. I would also point out that the delivery route should not be in the form of smoking, either. If you are going to use “weed,” you should at least use an equivalent amount of CBD at the same time, in any form, to try to protect your brain. And I’d like this phenomenon to be studied more, of course.

Do I need blue blocker glasses? Are EMFs dangerous? 

The state of the research is in serious flux, no pun intended. So if you want to look cool, go ahead, get those orange glasses, and wear them. Who knows when it will be proven that you have saved your eyes and your brain. Right now, my recommendation for you would be to dim your home’s lighting at sunset to lower your cortisol levels and re-enforce your brain’s circadian rhythm-something required for optimal health.

There is evidence that too much “blue light” (emitted from regular light bulbs and devices) after dark will possibly impact sleep quality and other bodily functions, including night vision. Therefore, in addition to dimming the lights, turn on a “blue blocker” app on your electronic devices. Also, consider getting a “red light” next to your bed if you sit up and read before turning in, as I do.

Some studies have linked excessive cellphone usage to a type of brain cancer, but nothing is conclusive. To err on the side of caution, use headphones or your speakerphone. The data on EMF exposure is similarly inconclusive, but again, it might be prudent for some people in some homes to turn off their routers at night. At the very least, make sure your devices are placed in “airplane mode” next to the bed.

A Word about Hormones

As you age, you become catabolic due to cortisol increase and testosterone and human growth hormone decrease. This phenomenon alone makes men and women lose muscle and gain body fat. That then leads to weight gain, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, heart disease, and even certain cancers. Not to mention decreased physical activity, a decreased sex life, and overall reported life dissatisfaction. Therefore, I always suggest that everyone read about bioidentical hormone replacement to decide for themselves if they think it will enhance their life.

Cortisol

The only hormone that increases as we age-cortisol-increases under stress-a good thing for your body in the short term. However, long-term high cortisol levels can lead to immune system dysfunction,  increased plaquing on your coronary arteries, decreased mitochondrial biogenesis, depressed cognitive function, and put you at higher risk for all-cause cancers. In addition, it can make you feel fatigued because the decrease in mitochondrial ATP production and high cortisol levels interfere with regular sleep patterns.

High cortisol can trigger sugar cravings. It can be the main “driver” of menopausal belly fat. If you are trying to build muscle, it does just the opposite as it again is catabolic. It not only can decrease muscle mass, but it also reduces bone mass and can slow your metabolic rate by reducing thyroid functioning. Finally, it can trigger leaky gut syndrome, which causes systemic inflammation and is one of the main root causes of all autoimmune diseases.

We, therefore, lower cortisol levels for people under constant stress and most individuals 55-65 years of age and older for the reasons mentioned above. I often re-set the adrenals with adrenal adaptogens and adrenal glandulars. Sometimes I use integratives such as a magnolia bark derivative. Sometimes I use aromatherapy or liposomal GABA. Often, I’ll turn to the intra-nasal peptide called Selank.

Heptapeptide Selank: (Thr-Lys-Pro-Arg-Pro-Gly-Pro) 

Numerous clinical studies have shown that Selank has strong anti-anxiety as well as neuroprotective effects. In addition, the clinical effects of Selank are similar to those of anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, which enhance the activity of the GABA: the calming neurotransmitter. This similarity of effect is borne out in several clinical trials. In addition, there has been a documented similarity between the changes in the expression of 45 genes one hour after either GABA or Selank is given.

What about Detoxing?

Unfortunately, what may seem to be a “common sense thing” is just not studied in the general population. Yes, we know that most of us carry around a load of toxins, including plastics, BPC’s, and even some degree of heavy metals. However, we have no medical guidelines about detoxification other than for those who genetically cannot recognize biotoxins, those with MTHFR (methylation) defects, or those who may need something to augment their liver’s detoxification functioning during, say, chemotherapy. I will always recommend that you drink reverse osmosis water, shower in filtered water, and use non-chemical cleaning products. I discourage the use of “cleansing fasts” or the overuse of colonics as a detoxification method. The judicious use of activated charcoal blends on an intermittent basis seems reasonable, albeit not scientifically proven.

Any other peptides we should know about?

I prescribe a good deal of BPC-157 for gut issues and injuries. KPV is great for psoriasis, along with other integratives in our functional arsenal. CJC-Ipamorelin is just one anterior pituitary stimulant to increase HGH levels as a secretagogue but does seem to work the best. Sex lives will never be the same since the advent of kisspeptin and PT-141. The topicals we now have for hair growth (such as zinc thymulin) are simply amazing. Lastly, GHK-Cu in topical or injectable form works wonders for collagen and elastin stimulation and visible improvements to aging skin.

What’s new for our lifespan?

Cancer cures are just on the horizon, but as always, it’s best to take preventive measures and do all that you can to avoid getting cancer in the first place. Besides implementing the healthy lifestyle discussed in the previous paragraphs, high dose antioxidants, IV or liposomal vitamin C, and even low-dose naltrexone are gaining traction as standard functional medicine practices when someone is at high risk.

The research is ongoing and fascinating regarding our future ability to cure disease by repairing our genetic material. We use stem cells (mesenchymal, umbilical, and placental) for all sorts of regenerative purposes. Perhaps the most therapeutic cellular therapy will turn out to be what the stem cells secrete-packets of “young factors” called exosomes. Clinical trials are ongoing for neurodegenerative disease, autoimmune disease, and more with IV exosomes. Joint health is being addressed with injectable exosomes. Exosome therapy may even play a role in skin rejuvenation. A lot of preliminary data looks quite promising regarding the use of IV exosomes to treat illness and perhaps even, dare I say, reverse cellular aging. I’ll leave you with that thought. Remember, 120 is the new 60.

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Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, Di Nisio M, Duffy S, Hernandez AV, Keurentjes JC, Lang S, Misso K, Ryder S, Schmidlkofer S, Westwood M, Kleijnen J.
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