Dealing With Spring Allergies

The first week of April is World Allergy Week. And what better time–you know that with April showers and May flowers on the horizon, annoying allergy symptoms can’t be far off!

For sufferers, it can be an awful time of year. The sun is shining, you want to get out in your garden, but all you end up doing is sitting on the couch, sniffing, sneezing, rubbing your eyes and feeling miserable. Instead of getting busy with a spring burst of energy, you watch the same shows on Netflix because your brain is too foggy to do anything else.

An Ounce of Prevention

Preventing allergies is so much easier than controlling the symptoms once they come. We’ve written about this before. Our approach is usually made up of some combination of these:

  • Dealing with food intolerances
  • Healing the gut
  • Doing a spring detox
  • Dealing with any nutrient deficiencies

A Pound of Relief

When the symptoms do arrive, though, many natural remedies can be helpful without the awful side effects of the usual over-the-counter solutions. We’ve recommended this extremely safe homeopathic remedy for allergies, but we also love to get the word out at this time of year about intravenous vitamin C to help our patients who are suffering.

Vitamin C at high doses does a really good job of stabilizing mast cells – these are the cells responsible for making histamine, which is the chemical responsible for creating allergy symptoms. We have seen patients with severe allergy symptoms get relief with IVC without the drowsiness or jitteriness of the over-the-counter allergy remedies, and research backs us up on this clinical observation.

Why IVC and not oral vitamin C? Oral can help too, but the dose needed to really get those allergy cells to settle down often gives people the nasty side effect of loose stool. With IV vitamin C, we can use a therapeutic dose without upsetting your tummy.

We have IV’s available five days a week. Call 705-444-5331, or book online anytime.

Thyroid Tests Your Doctor Never Told You About

We’ve written about thyroid testing in the past–it’s one of the most common concerns we hear from patients coming into the clinic.

If you take a peek at the symptoms of low thyroid, you can see why:

  • Exhaustion, weakness, and fatigue
  • Sensitivity to cold and reduced sweating
  • Shortness of breath when exercising
  • Slight to moderate weight gain
  • Problems with concentration or memory, slow thoughts or speech
  • Hair thinning and falling out
  • Crappy nails
  • Dry skin

Notice anything? Just about every women over 40 years of age who arrives in clinic has experienced one or more of these symptoms. And when they pay a visit to “Dr. Google” a thyroid problem is the first culprit on the list.

The Challenge of Thyroid Testing

Next step for most people is a trip to their MD, and a thyroid test. This is when things get complicated.

It’s not uncommon to get a blood test that comes back as “normal” (assuming you get one at all).

The problem is that you’re almost certainly only seeing part of the picture, and once you dig deeper, you realize that normal doesn’t necessarily mean optimal. Getting a true picture of thyroid function takes a closer look than you typically get from your MD.

There are several ways to test your thyroid function. We’ll take a look at them in more detail so you can understand why you might need more than just the first one.

 

TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)

This is the test you’ll probably get from your MD–it’s the first stop on the thyroid testing road trip.

Confusingly, this isn’t a thyroid hormone at all, but a pituitary hormone. Its job is to stimulate the thyroid to make thyroid hormones when there isn’t enough in the blood.  So when TSH is high, that means the thyroid function is low and your body is sending signals to make more hormone.

There is, however, a whole lot of argument about what TSH numbers should be.

The TSH “normal range is 0.35-5.00, although in the past 10 was considered okay. Now, there are some endocrinologists who think even 3 is too high.

What do we think? When naturopathic doctors see this test come in anywhere over 2, we start to get interested and start digging deeper. Read on.

T4 (thyroxine)

This is a thyroid hormone, and it’s the main hormone produced by the thyroid. BUT…this form of the hormone isn’t actually active. It travels through the blood and goes to your cells where it needs to be absorbed and then converted to the active form of the hormone.

This conversion is dependant on minerals like zinc and selenium. In people who are deficient in these nutrients (not uncommon, particularly in those who have been taking synthetic thyroid drugs for years) this conversion doesn’t happen optimally.

That means you can get a “normal” T4 result, but things still can be out of whack. You may have lots of T4 around, but it’s not getting turned into actual active hormone.

T3 (triiodothyronine)

This is also a thyroid hormone, and it’s the active form. The thyroid makes this in much smaller amounts than T4. Most of your  T3 is made by converting it from T4 at the cellular level.

We use this result to tell us that the conversion process is working, and to get a sense of how much active hormone there is in your system

Reverse T3

In certain circumstances, instead of turning T4 into T3, the active form of the thyroid hormone, the cell it turns it into a reverseT3 instead. This can happen, for example, when you’ve got too much T4 around.

Reverse T3, as the name suggests, does the exact opposite of T3–it slows things down and CONSERVES energy. This conversion is NOT dependant on nutrients like the conversion to the active T3.

Again, this is a case where patients can “feel” hypothyroid even though regular blood tests would look normal.

Anti-TPO & Anti-TG (thyroid peroxidase antibody and thyroglobulin antibody)

These are not thyroid hormones but antibodies (immune molecules) that are attacking the thyroid. Anti-TPO is the most sensitive test for detecting autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto thyroiditis or Graves disease and is usually the only one that need be done to screen for those conditions.

However, Anti-TG, or thyroglobulin antibody, will occasionally pick up autoimmunity when TPO is normal. When these antibodies are high this means the immune system is seeing the thyroid as an enemy, attacking it and causing it to under-function. Again, in this case you could get symptoms of low thyroid when a regular test would be normal.

The solution in this case is not to focus attention on the thyroid, but to help the immune system get back into balance so it stops putting undo stress on the thyroid.

The lesson here is that testing your thyroid function is a lot more involved than a quick TSH test. There are any number of reasons to get “normal” results, yet still have an underlying imbalance.

A good assessment of thyroid function means looking at lot more data, not just TSH. If you’re only getting TSH results, you’re not seeing the whole picture. Generally, we like to test TSH, T3, T4 and Anti TPO /Anti-TG, and reverse T3 when indicated.

Your little thyroid gland has its fingerprints all over your body–it can have far-reaching health effects. Helping it work optimally is something that can be done, but it’s a lot easier to do that with a complete picture of what’s going on.

For more information on thyroid testing, or to make an appointment, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book online.

Men: Understanding and Measuring Your Testosterone

Testosterone is predominately a male hormone. Although women have it in small amounts as well, this post is all about our boys. (Although our female patients may have to drag their guys in for testing. :))

Gentlemen, testosterone is the “fountain of youth” hormone. It’s part of what makes a guy feel like a “guy”. It makes you feel strong, vital, virile and ambitious.

As you age, however, testosterone levels gradually decline. This decline can have very little abnormal effect on some men, or it can have varied and far-reaching effects that can really wreak havoc.

Symptoms of Low/Decreasing Testosterone

Low testosterone has a lot of possible symptoms, such as:

  • Reduced sexual desire, or low libido
  • Fewer spontaneous erections
  • Impotence (erectile dysfunction)
  • Infertility
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Emotional changes, such as low self-confidence or lack of motivation
  • Physical changes, like increased body fat, reduced muscle bulk and strength, and decreased bone density

The Challenge of Measuring Your Testosterone

How do you find out if low testosterone is behind your symptoms? Usually testosterone is measured in the blood in two ways: bound and free. They’re different.

Total testosterone is all testosterone in the blood, much of which is “bound” to something called sex hormone binding globulin, some that’s  bound to albumin, and some that’s not bound to anything.

Free testosterone is made up of the second two–that bound to albumin and that not bound to anything. This is the testosterone the cells can actually use–it’s  what we call “bioavailable.” Only about 1/3 of total testosterone is free.

The free number is mainly what we’re interested in, but  there are a couple of problems. The first is that the “free” number is more of a calculation than a measurement–we’re using other measurements to do some math. So it’s not completely accurate.

The second problem is that even though we get a number, normal ranges can vary a lot between individuals. What’s normal for you may be typical. Levels are also age-related. You can try this page for reference.

Testing, though, is critical because it gives us a reference point.

Optimal Testosterone

Ideally, then, this is what we want to do:

  1. Test so that we have a baseline. That way, at least we can compare future numbers against something and see when things are changing. You can find a sample report here if you’re curious.
  2. Focus on optimal testosterone. That’s the level where you are not experiencing symptoms.
  3. Make the right health changes to keep your testosterone in its optimal range for you.

Tips for Restoring Optimal Testosterone Levels

Testosterone levels are related to other hormone levels, too–things like insulin and cortisol. That means your lifestyle can have a huge effect, and it’s generally our first treatment choice, although there are other options. We’ll often recommend that patients:

  1. Stop drinking too much.
  2. Get rid of extra weight. Fat cells make estrogen, which throws off testosterone levels.
  3. Avoid refined carbohydrates. Increased insulin levels suppress testosterone.
  4. Deal with stress. Stress hormone suppresses testosterone
  5. Get off the couch. Exercise is the key. It helps decrease the weight, burn off those carbs and helps deal with the stress. Weight lifting stimulates the muscle building which in turns stimulates testosterone. (Plus, when you’re exercising,you’re not sitting on the couch drinking that second beer!)

For more information on testing your testosterone levels, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331 or book online!

2 Health Issues for International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The intention of this day is both to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, and to be call to action for increasing gender equality.

On this wonderful day of “girl power”, the StoneTree team wanted to empower our patients around two important health care issues that affect women.

1. Heart Disease

Some 27% of female deaths in North American are a result of heart disease. This is far more then breast cancer. Add another 8% due to stroke, and another 3% related to diabetes, both of which are related to the same lifestyle issues as heart disease, and this should really get our attention.

Women do not experience symptoms of heart attack quite the same as men, so they tend to get care later then men. Also, when they do get care, they tend to be treated less aggressively than men. The result is a women is twice as likely to die within a month of having a heart attack compared to a man.

What to do? First, you can begin by assessing your risk here. Next, you can focus on preventing the heart disease in the first place with the following five things:

  • Quit smoking. No explanation needed here. If you still smoke, please get help and stop.
  • Exercise daily (Yes, daily.). Try this for a little motivation.
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet. Lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, anti-oxidants and good fats.
  • Get enough sleep. It matters.
  • Keep on-top of your blood work. Not only is it important to know what your cholesterol is doing, but what about your blood sugar? Your inflammatory markers like hs-CRP? Knowing what these numbers are and acting before they become a problem is the best way to prevent the outcomes of heart disease.

2. Women’s Reproductive Health

The screening recommendations for women’s health in Canada have changed in recent years. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive health care looked at the evidence and made recommendations around screening tests and exams and this what they came up with:

In asymptomatic, non-pregnant women with low risk:

  • No pelvic exams
  • No clinical breast exams
  • No teaching of self-breast exams
  • Mammography only after age 50 – every 2-3 years
  • Pap smear only after age 25 – every 3 years

If you’re like many of our patients, you read this and gasp. It is quite a departure from what we grew up with–a full physical exam including PAP every year.

You may also be wondering why. The logic behind the recommendations are two-fold:

  • One of the outcomes of “preventative screening” is that you find things. And sometimes, you find things that would never have turned into a scary disease at all. For example, breasts can be normally lumpy and bumpy. Doing a self exam or clinical exam would find lumps that then need to be tested to make sure they are not cancerous and most of them won’t be. So the screening leads to tests and interventions that cause undue stress and harm to the patient receiving them.
  • All of this testing costs money. In a publicly funded system, we need to make sure that the money we are spending is positively effecting the most people and is not wasteful. Spending money on tests that are mostly benign can be seen as wasteful of a public resource. Another way of looking at this is that when the recommendations change to do a PAP on asymptomatic women from every year to every three years, we know we will miss some cervical cancer (in fact, 3 in 100,000). It’s just that it is less expensive to deal with those three women with disease then it is to screen all women every year to catch those three.

This isn’t necessarily the logic that helps people sleep at night, but it’s the reality of health care in a system with limited resources.

International Women’s Day is about women empowering themselves. If you’re concerned about these recommendations, or would like more frequent screening, talk to your health care professional. Naturopaths are trained and licensed to perform regular Pap smears, and pelvic and breast exams. Our unique Well Woman Visit offers a warm, caring environment for reproductive health screening at the frequency you decide with your doctor.

egg with female symbol

Women: Why & How to Test Your Hormones

Hormones are chemical messengers in your body. They’re secreted by various glands into your blood, and are then carried off to locations in your body where they tell your organs and tissues what to do.

There are all kinds of hormones–you’ve probably heard of many, with names like cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, melatonin, growth hormone–even insulin is a hormone.

In this post, we’re going to look specifically at female sex hormones, and get into exactly how and why we measure them. (Men, we’ll get to you in a later post. Although you might want to read on, as this stuff no doubt affects your life, perhaps more than you realize.:))

Why test your hormones?

When any chemical messenger in your body doesn’t work right, or changes dramatically, we often get physical symptoms in the body–changes that we don’t expect or want.

Some symptoms associated with hormone imbalance in the menstrual cycle, for example, include:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Fertility issues
  • Mood swings
  • Migraine headaches
  • Hot flashes

Those are pretty frequent complaints here at StoneTree, and to find out exactly what’s going on, we try to measure hormone levels. If we can identify a hormonal culprit behind your symptoms, it can save a lot of time, expense, effort and side effects as we try to bring things back into balance.

Good testing, in other words, can be a shortcut to good results.

But, testing hormones can be tricky…

Using lab tests to understand what is going on with our hormones is not as cut and dried as you might imagine, for two reasons.

  1. Our hormones change. This is true for men, too, but more obvious for us women. We have a menstrual cycle in which the ebb and flow of hormones creates a uterine lining, matures an egg, and makes the uterus hospitable to a growing fetus. But it’s a cycle, and that makes it a moving target–it’s tougher to get results we can connect to symptoms.
  2. Hormones have no function in our blood. Blood is just the FedEx of hormone delivery–it just carries hormones around the body to where they need to work. A blood test, therefore, can tell us whether or not a gland is making the hormone in the correct amounts, but it can’t tell us whether the hormone is in the cells doing its job.

Enter salivary hormone testing…

To get around these two challenges, we use something called a Month Long Hormone Assessment that measures hormone levels in saliva instead. You can see a sample here.

Saliva testing helps us better understand how well our hormones are functioning for two reasons:

  • First, because it isn’t a blood test, it better measures the amount of hormone that actually makes it into your tissues.
  • Second, because we take 11 samples over the course of a month, we get an entire picture of your cycle. Women who are experiencing cyclical symptoms find this test awesome because the 11 samples over 33 days allow us to figure out more accurately where and when the problem is.

The saliva test is a great way to test your hormone levels, and it’s easier than it sounds. You do all the collecting at home…and no needles!

For more information, or to get your sample kit, just contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book online anytime.