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.

Heart and brain walking

Memory Issues? More Evidence that Exercise Helps

We have written endlessly about the value of exercise for overall health.

If you read through the research, it comes up over and over again. It’s good for our hearts. It helps moods. It keeps our bones strong. It keeps our weight stable. It even makes our brains bigger.

Here is more evidence to suggest it also makes our memory better.

In this study, they took women between 70-80 years old, all of whom were complaining of memory problems, or as the researchers referred to it, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

These women were divided into three groups. One did aerobic exercise, one did strength training and a third was a control group. The treatment groups engaged in activity twice a week for 60 minutes.

Compared to controls the treatment groups both had improved verbal and spatial memory, with the best gains being in the group who did the aerobic activity.

The findings make sense. Move the body, move the blood, get more oxygen to the brain, as well as more fuel and nutrients for the old thinker to work.

But this might be the most important takeaway: “aerobic activity” wasn’t intensive marathon training. It was a 60-minute walk outside at 60% of max heart rate TWICE a WEEK. That’s basically a brisk-ish walk.

The average Canadian spends dozens of hours a week in front of conventional TV and the web combined, consuming media of one type or another. Converting just TWO of those to walking seems like an achievable goal.

StoneTree Clinic and the Coldest Night of the Year

The Coldest Night of the Year is a super-fun, family-friendly walking fundraiser that raises money for the hungry, homeless and hurting in 100+ communities across Canada. It’s been going on since 2011 and has raised over $12 million.

The walk is held on Saturday, February 25th, 2017. Participants can choose to walk 2, 5 or 10 km. The idea is to feel a small hint of the discomfort and challenge homeless people face, particularly in the winter.


The Collingwood event information is here.

You can support or join the StoneTree Team here.


Walks start at 5:15 PM at Trinity United Church and ends there with a light meal for all walkers and volunteers.

The StoneTree Clinic team has entered a team with the goal of raising $500 for Home Horizons.

Here’s How You Can Help

  1. Donate to the cause. You can do it right now, right here.
  2. Join us! Everyone is welcome to walk, and we’re happy to have you! Join on the same page, here.
  3. Spread the word. Tell your friends…and better yet, bring your friends!

This is a small thing, and an easy thing, and a good thing. Thank you for your support!

365 Days of Meditation

Over the years, many of you have read posts about my “New Years Resolutions”. It’s not uncommon for me to pick a habit that I want to solidify in my life, and then commit to a year of daily practice to incorporate it into my day to day activity. I’ve done it with exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, and gratitude, to name a few.

The idea of incorporating mediation into my routine has come up often, but the thought of sitting still and contemplating my navel always just made me cringe. Meditation just never made it to the top of the list despite an increasing stack of research that continues to prove the unbelievable value of doing it.

At the end of 2016, a year filled with upsets for many, the idea to re-center, focus on the good, and find some inner peace seemed like a good one. Mediation, it seemed, had finally made it to the top of list.

I’m now 30 days in to my 365 days of mediation, and my navel-gazing fears have vanished. Not only is it not as hard as I thought it would be, I’m turning my 10 minutes a day into 15 minutes for the next month.

I’m using a great tool to help: www.headspace.com. This online service is free for the first 10 days, and quite reasonable after that. Andy Puddicomb, the founder and “voice” of Headspace, has a very calm and soothing voice, and makes starting the process accessible and easy.

The Benefits

Meditation has become increasingly well-studied, with research linking it to better mood, heart health, focus, sleep and productivity, to name a few things–you can find links to numerous studies here.

But studies aside, do I feel any different?

Definitely. I feel like I’m having an easier time staying on task. I feel like I’m much less distracted in conversations. I feel like I can find words better, and see the solutions to problems faster. Those are all just feelings, mind you, but they’re enough to keep me going for the next 335 days. I’ll keep you posted!

Preventing Food Allergies in Kids: New US Guidelines

There are now new guidelines in the US about the introduction of peanuts into babies’ diets, with the idea that early exposure decreases the chances of developing a peanut allergy later.

This is essentially the opposite of the approach for many years, where parents were encouraged to hold off on peanut introduction until kids are older. But the new guidelines make sense if you understand how the human immune system works.

Knowing What’s “You”, and What Isn’t

The immune system is meant to be reactive to proteins that are not “us”.

Bacteria and viruses, for example, are made up of proteins that do not look like our own proteins. When our immune system sees them, it recognizes them as an invader that needs to be ousted. To do that, your immune system creates all kinds of inflammation – coughing, sneezing, fever congestion, loose stool, etc. We think of these things as the bad parts of being sick, but they’re all an effort to kick those little critters out. That’s why sometimes suppressing fevers and other symptoms can inhibit your body’s ability to do its job.

But there are many proteins in our world that aren’t part of our own bodies but are also not infectious or dangerous to us–things like food proteins, for example. Your body has a complicated, amazing system for knowing that those things are good for us, even though they’re foreign.

Occasionally, though, your body makes a mistake. It confuses a food protein–like peanuts, say–for a dangerous invader, and fires up the defences. That’s when we see the signs that we call an “allergic reaction”.

Learning Good From Bad

How does your body know what’s dangerous and what isn’t? There are many complicated mechanisms that determine how tolerant we are, but they include a healthy gut flora (microbiome) and gut immune system and the exposure of the flora and immune system to potential allergens. In other words, your immune system needs to learn.

It’s typically been suggested that peanuts, gluten, eggs and other foods that have an increased chance of creating allergy be avoided until a child is three years old. The idea is that the immune system is more mature and therefore may not react. However, if the gut never gets a chance to experience those proteins and realize they are not allergenic when it is developing its ability to be tolerant, then it may be making a bigger deal out of a food protein then it should be.

The new guidelines are, essentially, a way to “teach” the immune system sooner, rather than later.

Remember: allergies can be serious business. It is a good idea to talk to your primary health provider before you get started with early introductions, especially if you have a history of food allergies in your family.

This Year, Eat Together

I am blessed with many friends both old and new, who love food. We have sat around countless tables together cooking, eating, drinking and laughing.

Every Monday night the lot of us get together for dinner. It can be as few as two families and as many as six. We take turns cooking for each other or we do potluck. Occasionally we even order in.

The point is not the food – although it is always outstanding in this great group of health-conscious foodies. Equally, the point isn’t about making it a big deal, in fact, we are often all finished and back to our respective homes by 8:30PM.

The point is to connect with each other. To share a few laughs. To start off our week knowing we have more in our lives then our work or our stressors. It helps us to remember we are not alone–we’re part of a group and a community.

Eating together is one Europe’s great secrets of health and wellness. Eating together usually results in eating better food, eating it more slowly, which usually means eating less of it.

Eating together creates laughter, which we know improves health and wellness on so many levels.

President’s Choice mission for 2017–Canada’s 150th birthday–is to get Canadians to eat together. This is a goal we can get behind.

Check out their awesome video:

Share it with your friends and make a plan to get together regularly this year.

Eat well, laughs lots and connect often!

Well-Woman Visit Dates for 2017

We’re happy to announce the Well Woman Visit dates for this year. This unique service offers a warm, caring environment for annual visits that includes:

  • A complete breast exam
  • Self breast exam education
  • Full gynecological exam with PAP test

Dates filled up quickly in 2016, especially with the addition of online booking. Here are the dates for 2017:

  • Jan 16
  • Feb 27
  • Mar 27
  • May 1
  • June 5
  • July 10
  • Sept 18
  • Oct 23
  • Dec 4

In the last part of the year, booking online resulted in slots filling up quite quickly. You can grab one for 2017 by booking online, or calling the clinic at 705-444-5331.

All dates are online and available. If you want to book for the December date, for example, go for it. No worries about forgetting – we will email you to remind you as the date approaches. (Online booking also allows you to cancel in the event of an unexpected cycle course correction.)

You can learn more about how this unique service was created here:

And learn more about cervical cancer screening and guidelines here and here.

Why 2016 Was Great

As 2016 came to a close, the overwhelming common message of inboxes, social feeds, newscasts, and late-night talk shows seemed to be, “Thank goodness this crazy, awful, negative year is over.” So many montages of the disasters, hardships and losses we sustained were played over and over again.

But Canadians are not as easily ruffled as that! According to a recent survey, the majority of us think 2017 will be a better year. Maybe it’s our experience with winter?

But what might be more important than our optimism for 2017 is to realize that 2016 was amazing in many, many ways. That’s a message Canada’s own Chris Hadfield shared this New Year’s Eve when he sent 40 tweets of the good news stories of the year. They included:

  • An effective vaccine for Ebola
  • The eradication of measles from the Americas
  • World hunger reaching its lowest point in 25 years

If you do one thing this year to kick off 2017, read this list. It might change your entire perspective. Amidst the drama and divisiveness that gets shared, tweeted, posted, and otherwise spread, it’s nice to have this remarkable gift to share.

Chris Hadfield reminds us of all the good things that happened in 2016

New Year’s Bonus! Hadfield’s TED talk: What I learned from going blind in space