Food Matters (And It Only Took 2000 Years!)

Nearly 2500 years ago, a Greek physician named Hippocrates was busy reinventing medicine.

Hippocrates wrote some of the oldest known medical books, and thousands of new physicians are still sworn in each year based on variations of the oath that bears his name. He was the first to describe a number of diseases and conditions and was also the first documented chest surgeon. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hippocrates led the shift that turned medicine into a profession.

What you might not know is that Hippocrates was also the original lifestyle doctor. He believed that diseases were caused by imbalances, not by the gods or spirits, and that lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise were powerful tools in the doctor’s arsenal. Naturopathic philosophy owes much to this ancient Greek doc.

He’s often quoted as having said, “Let food be your medicine,” and a couple of millennia later, it looks like modern medicine might finally be catching up. This week, NPR ran a story about the “Fresh Food Pharmacy” which is blowing the doors off the standard management of type 2 diabetes in the US:

In its new incarnation, it looks more like a grocery, with neatly stocked shelves filled with healthy staples such as whole grain pasta and beans. The refrigerators are full of fresh produce, greens, low-fat dairy, lean meats and fish.

The participants meet one-on-one with a registered dietitian. They’re given recipes and hands-on instruction on how to prepare healthy meals. Then, they go home with a very different kind of prescription: five days’ worth of free, fresh food.

The program was piloted it in a community with a very high incidence of type 2 diabetes, but with a low income, where eating healthy can be harder to do.

The result? Blood sugar, blood pressure and weight all went down in participants. Perhaps more important, their quality of life went up.

But how can they afford to give away fresh food for free? The company spends about $1000 on each Fresh Food Pharmacy patient. But treating diabetic patients conventionally costs many thousands more–costs associated with diabetes in the US now top 240 billion dollars (yes, that’s billion) annually. Plus, as the article points out, about 1 out of every 2 deaths from heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes in the U.S. is linked to a poor diet.

The real question, then, is how can you afford not to give away fresh food?

The Cost of Chronic Problems

Among the many things Hippocrates pioneered was categorizing progressive, long-term health conditions as chronic. In his day, I would imagine those conditions were relatively rare. Now, as the CDC points out for the US:

  • Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer—together accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths.
  • Eighty-six percent of all health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic medical conditions.

Many, many chronic conditions are incredibly responsive to lifestyle interventions–both in prevention and treatment. But while we still have the writings of Hippocrates to remind us of the value of lifestyle medicine, our culture has largely lost touch with the philosophy.

It’s said that Hippocrates lived into his 80’s or 90’s (some even say to 100). I imagine he’d be shocked to know just how chronic, and costly, our health problems have become. But I like to think he’d be cheered by our dawning shift to “food as medicine.” It might have taken a couple of thousand years, but better late than never.

Why Not Create Your Own Fresh Food Pharmacy?

You don’t need a special program to build your own Fresh Food Pharmacy. You just need to get started. Check out these documentaries for inspiration. Many are available on Netflix! If you need help, contact us anytime.

Food Matters

Hungry for Change

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

Fed Up

Do You Know These 6 Possible Causes of IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a diagnosis of exclusion. That’s a fancy way of saying IBS is a bunch of symptoms that aren’t being caused by any known pathology. When everything else is ruled out for those symptoms, IBS is what you’re left with.

In the case of IBS, those symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain and cramping
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or sometimes both
  • Bloating and swelling of your stomach
  • Excessive gas
  • Urgency of bowels
  • A feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels
  • Mucus in your stool
  • A lack of energy
  • Feeling sick
  • Backache
  • Bladder problems, such as urgency to urinate or difficulty emptying bladder
  • Pain during sex

IBS is a real pain in the butt (no pun intended) for patients, but it’s also a hassle for conventional docs to treat because there is very little understanding as to the cause and there are very few drug therapies that work.

Although there is some evidence to suggest diet change can help, and there is research looking at the effectiveness of probiotics, no one solution resolves all cases.

That is where Naturopathic Medicine comes in. Complicated cases with no clear cause are often where naturopaths can shine because we simply have the time and experience to dig deeper into case histories.

In clinic, we’ve found that IBS symptoms can result from many different, yet common, body imbalances. Here are six that tend to reveal themselves in our practices frequently:

  1. Food intolerances. The immune system in our guts is very strong, and when it’s working properly it shouldn’t react to the foods we eat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work properly. When this part of our immune system gets out of balance, the proteins in our diets can start causing problems. Gluten and dairy proteins are the most common culprits and testing can be easily done to figure out others.
  2. Dysbiosis. The flora in our digestive tract is a very important part of staying healthy. When those little critters get out of balance they can cause many of the unpleasant symptoms of IBS.
  3. Parasites. It’s easy to pick up one of these little bugs and carry it around for years. Our immune system in our gut usually takes care of most exposures, but stress, poor diet, and exposure to drugs and chemicals can help parasites evade the immune system. That means they can stick around and cause tummy trouble.
  4. Nutrient deficiencies. One form of IBS is a spasm of the muscles in the colon. This can be the result of magnesium deficiency and can be corrected with supplementation. Taking magnesium by mouth, however, may not work at first. Sometimes the intestinal tract can’t absorb it, and in that case, the result is MORE loose bowels. Using IV magnesium is a better way to calm down the intestinal muscles.
  5. Toxic exposures. Many toxins are eliminated from our bodies through our bowels. All of the fat-soluble toxins like solvents, plastics, pesticides, heavy metals like mercury come out this way. If a person is overexposed and/or has a genetic susceptibility to poor detoxification, these toxins can build up and cause trouble.
  6. Stress and mood imbalances. We think that the neurotransmitters that impact our mood only operate in our brains, but there are receptors for these chemicals all through the body, and there are PLENTY of them in our guts. Chronic stress and anxiety can really wreck havoc with these receptors and cause IBS-like symptoms.

Teasing out which one (or more) of these is the culprit can be tricky work, but lab testing, case histories, physical exams and treatment plans that target possible causes can help us narrow it down. For more info, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331, or book online anytime.

Unscreening: How Screens Affect Child Sleep

Like almost every mom, I’ve had the frustrating experience of trying to do a task or have a conversation with a “busy” toddler by my side. When my daughter was little, tablets and phones weren’t quite so readily available to distract her when I needed to get things done, but I can’t help but think that if they were, I would have used them with wild abandon.

Recent research published in the journal Nature, strongly suggests that as tempting as it is, this should NOT be the distraction strategy of choice.

The study looked at 715 infants and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years of age. In these kids, sleep quantity decreased as touchscreen use increased–kids took longer to get to sleep and spent less time asleep. In fact, for every additional hour of tablet use the child experienced 15.6 minutes less total sleep.

Sleep Matters

Sleep is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for children. During sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development. Less sleep can jeopardize these critical activities.

For proper mental and physical development, children need about 12-14 hours sleep.

Unscreening: Entertainment Options in the Real World

So what to do? The best advice is likely to avoid screens altogether for the first two years of life, at least.

If that seems like a terrifying concept, here are some of the things we used to distract and entertain our little one when I was trying to get stuff done:

  1. Low cupboards and drawers filled with things she could safely play with. She would just love to pull all the dish towels out of the cupboards and drape them all over the kitchen. As she got older she could “help” put them away.
  2. A Kleenex box. She would pull every single one out I’d repack it and she would do it again.
  3. A purse or diaper bag. Everything in it would be safe for a toddler’s mouth and depending on how full it was she would play with it for ages.
  4. Boredom. This one took me a bit to figure out. As a parent, I thought it was my responsibility to entertain and stimulate her learning all the time. Eventually, I realized that if I gave her a minute to be bored on her own, she would figure it out and engage herself by herself in ways I could not have figured out for her.

The last one is probably at the heart of all of this. Unscreening isn’t just about one toy versus another. It’s about whether boredom is good for kids, and whether screens have a tendency to steal that essential growth opportunity from them.

If you’ve seen those wondrous moments of pure joy and creativity that arise in kids when they’re exposed to a little boredom, you’ll know exactly what I mean…

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.

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.

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!

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