Hard-to-diagnose health conditions are increasingly common in the U.S., and they’re exactly what Dr. Ann-Marie Barter specializes in. Whether you have thyroid issues, blood sugar complications, or gut health concerns, she is here to dig deep and figure out the cause. Here Dr. Barter shares some of the most cutting-edge discoveries in the functional medicine world and how we can apply these discoveries to our routines. Listen in below, or keep reading to see our highlights!
How did you come to specialize in hard-to-diagnose health conditions?
My own struggles were difficult to diagnose, namely a really severe dental infection I had. After having a basic wisdom tooth extraction when I was really young I continued to have these chronic gut problems. It turns out I had a gaping infection in my jaw, called a cavitation. That was affecting my gut health dramatically because it was allowing bad bacteria to flourish, giving me IBS-like symptoms.
I knew I could really help other people with elusive health complications like this so I really dug into the research and literature around these issues. After you’ve experienced a similar situation you really empathize with every patient that comes in because you’ve been there yourself.
If you’re experiencing anything like chronic gut issues that won’t go away, sinus issues, TMJ issues, swollen lymph nodes under the chin, or shoulder/neck pain and you can’t figure out why- it could be related to your teeth. Complications after wisdom tooth removal and root canals are common. Symptoms won’t always start right after, I’ve seen them start as late as 4 years after the procedure. You need to use advanced imaging, like a cone beam scan, to see potential infections.
**Prefer to watch? Watch our livestream, “Solving Difficult Health Issues with Dr. Ann-Marie Barter” below!**
What are neurotransmitters?
These are brain chemicals that send messages all over your body. They affect many processes, from allowing your body to move food through your intestinal tract to feeling joyful or energetic. They’re neurochemicals that allow your system to work, so they’re extremely important to maintain.
When did these come across your radar?
Initially, when patients would come into my office I would put them on a 30-day elimination diet to see what foods they react to. A lot of patients weren’t able to go more than two or two and a half weeks without coffee, sugar, chips, something like that. The worst part is it would really dampen their spirits and make them feel discouraged.
I wondered if it was a willpower issue, or if they needed more motivation and encouragement. But I still felt like there was more to the story. My own life slapped me in the face when I moved and my commute and stress levels increased. I started stopping at Whole Foods every day on my way home from work and buying a cookie. It felt compulsive and was so frustrating, but it made me realize what my patients were feeling.
When you pay attention to neurotransmitters you look at every contributing factor. My commute and stress increased, and I also moved. I discovered that I was had moved into a moldy house and my body was trying to get through the day with sugar. Sugar is basically a legal way to bump up your neurotransmitters for a short period of time.
***Eat Anything RX® is designed to help with digestive problems as it contains an “All-star cast” of enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics. Get it or learn more about it here.***
How do you figure out you need to focus on neurotransmitters during care?
I’m a big fan of testing, so we first run tests to see where the patient’s neurotransmitters are going and looking like. I often need to share the symptoms and complications surrounding neurotransmitter deficiencies to see if if the patient is already experiencing them. Nutrient deficiency affects your neurotransmitters and most people in the United States have at least 1 deficiency already. Magnesium and B vitamins, for example, are extremely important for running certain pathways. But if you don’t have any magnesium how can you run that pathway?
Gut health is important to mention as well. For example, at a certain age 60% of people have an H-pylori infection. This is a bacteria that lives in your stomach and is highly contagious, meaning if your spouse has it you probably do too. It can be passed through breast milk too which can be very dangerous. This bacteria replicates based on the nutrients you’re consuming the most, and eats your iron before you can absorb it. It makes your stomach more alkaline and really affects your ability to absorb the nutrients you’re eating.
This infection is just another way we can be deficient and our neurotransmitters can’t function. They make us feel joyful, focused, and happy, like children do. Down the line as we get stressed and deficient in nutrients we start to lose our joy and love of life too.
What are some of the most common negative habits/foods you see?
The biggest offender is sugar. I like to quote a Guns N Roses song, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so the little got more and more.” That little sugar rush after you take a bite of a cookie is so addicting, which is why people commonly overindulge on cookies and ice cream. Glucose drives neurotransmitters short-term, so sugar spikes your glucose, then your dopamine and serotonin levels spike, but then your glucose crashes to even lower than it was before. Now you need more sugar to feel the same effect so you have to eat more. Stress, lack of sleep really deplete your neurochemical levels along with the gut issues I mentioned earlier.
What are some good habits we can develop to counteract the bad ones?
There are diet changes you can make to improve your neurotransmitter function- but generally speaking you just want to focus on clean, whole foods. Sleep is incredibly important. It’s important for cell regeneration, mental health, mood, energy, it’s the foundation for health. If you aren’t sleeping enough you’ll notice that you’re more irritable and less focused which is directly related to your neurotransmitters.
Meditation increases your dopamine levels and their binding capacity by 60%, which is a big deal. Sunlight is essential. Go outside without sunglasses on to absorb as much sunlight as possible to really prolong those benefits. This will improve your mood, energy levels, even out your sleep schedule, and help promote healthier eating choices.