UCSF Functional Med Conference 2019, Part 3: Food triggers to inflammation in the Brain and Optimizing Female Hormones

UCSF 2019 Question

Trailblazing, Datis Kharrazian, PhD, is an award winning functional medicine clinician, recognized for his outstanding skills in brain rehabilitation. His intelligence and strategic thinking radiated from every concept he described at the UCSF 2019 conference.

Dr. Kharrazian described how food sensitivities and environmental toxins can trigger immune reactions. These might include pain, depression, fatigue, brain fog, and allergies. Antibodies, the body’s defense against foreign antigens, can cross react with the body’s own tissues such as the cerebellum or thyroid, a process called molecular mimicry. This is the origin of autoimmune disease.   Just as a leaky gut allows toxins/antigens to pass from the gut to the blood, leaky brain barriers allow toxins to pass from the blood to the brain and may lead to neurological diseases.

He has had tremendous success in improving neurologic function by testing his patients for food sensitivities (with a highly sensitive testing process) and guiding them to avoid these food triggers.

Highlights he recommends for Central Immune Tolerance include;

*avoid food triggers; get tested for cross reactivity and avoid the specified foods

*Vitamin A

*Vitamin D


*Digestive enzymes (and mindful eating, chewing food well; enhancing digestion can prevent undigested particles from leaking into the blood stream and causing autoimmune reactions)


*Short chain fatty acids, especially butyrate for intestinal support

*Many Diverse Vegetables, especially cruciferous. He encourages patients to fill a Vitamix blender with vegetables, (note; not a juicer) to create a fibrous drink rich in fiber and nutrients healing to the gut. The plant fiber is essential. Variety ensures microbial diversity; keep changing the content.

*Avoid nightshades and lectins.

Healing the gut wall and avoiding food triggers can turn autoimmune disease around. By preventing toxins/antigens from leaking into the blood, we prevent the body’s immune system rising against these invaders, and therefore the potential for cross reactivity to one’s own tissues in the nervous system.

For more on this exciting topic, see his online six week plan to reversing cognitive decline. https://drknews.com/save-your-brain-optin/. Knowledge is cognitive power!



Jennifer Griffin, MD, spoke about the hot topic of optimizing female hormones through a functional medicine approach. The hormone cascade is tremendously intricate and self-regulating. When a prescription medication is applied without first addressing lifestyle changes in food, movement, stress, and sleep, major health effects can be overlooked.

The body is incredibly powerful in finding balance; by understanding this, we can fuel the system with empowering tools to rebalance itself. Nutrition and lifestyle upgrades come first. Supplements would be the next. And finally, bio-identical hormones are added if needed.

Where do we start on this complex problem? Here: How does our body make sex hormones?   Did you know they are derived from dietary fats and cholesterol? Yes, fats and cholesterol are critical to healthy hormone synthesis! The body uses cholesterol to make pregnenalone (often called the Mother hormone), and from there, it makes progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.

Important to note, is that cortisol is also made from pregnenalone, and in times of stress, the body prioritizes this pathway. It “steals” pregnenalone from the sex hormone pathway to make higher levels of cortisol. This is how chronic high stress and cortisol production, can lead to low sex hormone levels.

Hormone Pathway

On the opposite end of the spectrum, too much estrogen (in cases of obesity, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, or when progesterone diminishes in perimenopause) will also cause imbalances.

Dr. Griffin described a case study, in which she guided a woman out of the hormonal chaos of estrogen dominance to states of improved energy, mood, focus, libido, sleep and lean body composition all through changes in nutrition and lifestyle. These are non-invasive, health-promoting strategies which not only guide the body to rebalance its own hormones, but add to longevity and vitality.

Her initial strategy included reducing inflammation through the following:

  • limit refined carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine and alcohol
  • increase nutrient dense foods
  • increase movement (unless overexercising)
  • enhance sleep
  • manage stress

Once these healthy habits were adopted, she later added:

  • Hydration
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Fermented foods
  • Increasing fibrous vegetables to 6 servings/day
  • Respect for circadian rhythms; rising, eating and sleeping at regular times

At this point, she chose to add chasteberry (vitex), to increase progesterone levels, and improve progesterone/estrogen balance.

She encouraged reducing xenoestrogen exposure by avoiding BPA (tin cans, plastics), and pthalates (cosmetics, plastics).

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website and app are valuable resources for researching toxins in one’s environment.

To help clear excess estrogen;

*Increase cruciferous veggies (high DIM content)

*limit alcohol

*increase fibrous vegetables

*increase magnesium (she prefers citrate or glycinate)

To decrease stress;

*Mindbody practice ; 5 min/day; apps include CALM, Headspace, 10% Happier

*Mindful breathing; reset the nervous system from sympathetic fight or flight to parasympathetic heal and rest mode.  Apps include ibreathe, Breathe. Belly breathing technique. 4,7,8 breathing. Jon Kabat Zinn leads an 8 week online course in breathing for mindfulness.

Six months later, her patient felt revitalized, with much better energy, focus, libido, lean body composition and quality of sleep. What a relief! Six months of lifestyle changes and education led her to higher quality of health which she can choose to maintain for life.

Thus, Dr. Griffin addressed reducing perimenopausal symptoms of estrogen dominance through a functional medicine approach, with an anti-inflammatory diet, cultivating a healthy microbiome, replacing nutrient deficiencies, minimizing toxin exposure, supporting elimination and detox through fibrous vegetables, exercise and hydration, building stress resilience through guided meditation and breathing.

Rather than treating disease with drugs and surgery, functional medicine and health coaching empower individuals to cultivate health from within. I am grateful for the incredible knowledge and critical thinking strategies that I learned in medical school, for the honor of being involved so closely in my patient’s lives, and for interacting daily with the brilliant, compassionate community at UCSF.  Rather than practice conventionally, I have chosen to guide people to thrive through a whole life approach, including intelligent movement, whole food (it is medicine!), rest/recovery and behavior. In this way, I hope to empower each person to lead themselves to optimal performance and vitality.  If you are interested in brainstorming about how to upgrade your health and wellness, contact me to book a health coaching session and let the benefits begin!

Thanks Everyone!  I hope this helps you in your path to thriving.

Best to all,


UCSF 2019 Brought to Light

Disclaimer; Coaching services include education, guidance and tips on primal living and services are not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for a diagnosis or treatment that a physician, licensed dietitian, physical therapist or health care professional might recommend.

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