Making Sense of Thyroid Testing

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, but it’s a big deal all over your body. The hormone it creates is responsible for some of the most basic functions and systems of your body. If your thyroid isn’t working properly, you’ll definitely feel it.

The symptoms of an underactive thyroid make for a long and varied list. Fatigue and weakness, dry skin, hair loss, cold hands and feet, constipation, insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, and unexplained weight gain – they’re all possible signs of a thyroid problem, and they often lead people to seek thyroid testing.

Sometimes, though, testing doesn’t reveal the whole picture.

Testing Thyroid Function

Thyroid function is usually measured by a blood test called TSH. It’s a common enough test, but the challenge is that TSH results can often look normal, even when things aren’t right. That’s because the TSH test doesn’t actually measure thyroid function. It measures another hormone that stimulates our thyroid to make its hormones.

Your thyroid itself actually makes two main hormones: T4 and T3. T3 is the active form, but T4 is the most commonly produced. The T4 isn’t active, but instead gets converted into the active T3 form by our liver and kidneys.

What’s critical is that this conversion is nutrient dependent – it requires things like iodine, zinc, and selenium. If we don’t have enough of these nutrients, our body can’t covert the T4 into the active form. The result? TSH is showing normal – there’s lots of stimulating going on – but we still feel lousy because not enough of it is being converted into its active form.

The Environmental Toxin Connection

Even when the stimulation and conversion processes are working properly, environmental toxins can prevent the active T3 from actually getting into the cell and doing its job properly. Here again, the blood test can look normal even though things aren’t working right.

To get a more detailed picture of thyroid function, we look at TSH and T3/T4 levels, as well as other indicators like basal body temperature. That gives us a clearer picture of what’s happening – is there a production problem? A conversion problem? A cell uptake problem? As always, the naturopathic approach is that each problem (and each patient!) needs a slightly different approach. – Tara

To learn more about thyroid function and testing, or to understand how environmental toxins might be impacting your health, contact the clinic at (705)444-5331 to book a complimentary “meet the doctor” visit with a naturopath.

Making Sense of Gluten Intolerance

wheatMany people have problems when they eat wheat.  It gives them stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, chronic coughs, brain fog, fatigue, depression or any number of other symptoms.

What they don’t often realize is that gluten intolerance may be the culprit. Gluten intolerance is sometimes called a wheat allergy, but it’s really about more than wheat – gluten is a protein source found in wheat, bran, barley and other grass-related grains, too.

Gluten Intolerance vs Celiac Disease
Many people are familiar with celiac disease. It’s an autoimmune disease of the intestine in which the immune system is actually attacking the walls of the intestine. Determining if you have celiac disease is done through a blood test, but can only be conclusively determined by doing a biopsy of the intestines.

Gluten intolerance, though, is a little different. In celiac disease, the rogue immune cells are turned on by gluten. When we’re intolerant of gluten, however, the immune cells in our gut see gluten itself as an invader, and they attack.

This process makes a small amount of inflammation, and in most cases, this is no big deal – just a normal and healthy response to an invader.  The problem is that in our culture, we eat a lot of gluten. Toast and cereal for breakfast. A sandwich for lunch. Pasta for dinner. With each meal, the immune system sees invaders and reacts with inflammation over and over again. Over time, the inflammation builds up, and so do the symptoms.

Testing Your Reaction to Gluten
It takes some practice and experimentation to connect what we eat with how we feel. So how do you know if you have a gluten intolerance?

There are a couple of ways. The first is an elimination diet – an experiment. Simply remove gluten completely from your diet for 30 days, then reintroduce it and see if your symptoms come back.

The elimination method can work quite well, but there are two challenges. The first is that it takes 30 days, and removing gluten completely can be a real challenge. It’s easy to slip up, and to really make the experiment work, you need to completely get the gluten sources out of your diet for a month.

The second challenge is that you may have more than one intolerance, and removing one thing from your diet won’t clearly identify the problem.

Fortunately, gluten intolerance can also be determined through an IgG antibody test, which measures the antibodies in blood to different food proteins.

-Tara

Contact the office at (705) 444-5331 to learn about our food intolerance testing, and solutions for allergies and related digestive complaints like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritiable bowel syndrome (IBS).


The Cost of Eating Healthy

An offhand comment from a grocery store employee that eating a healthy diet was “too expensive” led to a lot conversation in our home. Was it really true? Was a healthy diet outside the financial reach of many families?

Recently, we decided to find out by looking at the cost of our diet. For six days, from Sunday, March 21 to Friday, March 26th, we tracked everything we ate and how much it cost.

­Note: the nitty gritty details follow below. If you just want the recipes, you’ll find them here. (PDF)

The Math

We spent $212.42 on food during the 6-day span. In some cases, we ended up with leftovers in the freezer for another time, and some of the ingredients are still in our cupboards, so we deducted a portion of the cost. We also ate lunch out once each that week.

The end result was about $30/per day.

We went back to our financial records for 3 random months, and the numbers were pretty similar. Overall, including meals out, we ended up at $30 a day.

How does that stack up? According to stats Canada the average Ontario family spends approximately $7500/year on food.  That’s a little over $20/day – we’re clearly over that by a wide margin.

At our rate of $30 per day, eating an organic healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables with a few meals out would likely be close to $900 per month. That’s a lot for some budgets.

How to Cut the Cost

On the bright side, there’s a lot of room to work with as far as price is concerned. Here are a few ideas:

  • Be Selective with Organics Our diet includes a huge amount of certified organic food. You could choose to buy non-organic fruits and vegetables, or you could also make selective choices based on buying just the dirty dozen organically, or avoiding them altogether.
  • Be Price Sensitive: We buy what’s best for us, without checking prices often. A little value shopping would certainly help our price tag.
  • Buy in Bulk: We have a tiny freezer, and limited pantry space, so we don’t buy many things in bulk. Buying in volume or joining a co-op would definitely help with the savings on some of the dry goods.
  • Eat in: We ate out very little during this week, but when we do go to restaurants, it’s expensive. The last few times we’ve been to a fast-food restaurant with 4 people, it’s cost us $30 just for one meal. That’s also the cost of lunch for two the last time we had a table service meal at a restaurant. If you need to cut costs dramatically, this the place to do it. One meal out = one whole day of very healthy eating at home.
  • Focus on Inexpensive Meals: Not all our meals were pricey – focusing on our cheaper meals could cut the cost down to close to the $20 mark. But we’d be relying heavily on simple carbs, pasta and rice in particular. Our cheapest meals were by far the ones that used pasta. That’s not ideal for health.
  • Grow Your Own: Not everyone’s cup of tea, and not an easy year-round option, but if it suits you, you can pay for your own delicious food with time instead of money.

The big takeaway for us was this: food is more expensive than we thought, but if you eat out more than a couple of times a week, you’ve got enormous room in your budget to replace that food with something more affordable if you need to.

The Meals and The Recipes

I always plan our weekly menus in advance, which helped with this project. I make a shopping list and buy all the ingredients so I don’t have to worry about it day to day. This also allows me to look at the whole week and see if it is balanced.

You’ll notice this week was light on meat, but it was just by chance. We aren’t vegetarians, but we do generally eat a lot of vegetarian meals.

Here was our dinner menu for the week:

  • Sunday – Organic greens with tuna (2 adults) – $7.81, time to prepare 10 min
  • Monday – out for a birthday party
  • Tuesday – Vegetarian Spaghetti (2 adults, 3 kids) $17.38 (but half went in freezer therefore $8.69/meal), Time 10 min in the AM, simmer all day, 10 minutes to boil pasta in the evening)
  • Wednesday – Tilapia, organic roasted sweet and regular potato, sauteed zucchini and mushroom (3 adults, 2 kids) $16.66, Time: prep = 15 min, cook = 40 min
  • Thursday – Chinese noodle soup (3 adults, 1 kid) $15.02, Time: 20 min
  • Friday – Pasta – pesto, artichoke and grape tomatoes (3 adults), $6.92, Time 20 min.

Lunch for Tara

I usually make something at the beginning of the week for the entire week.  This week it was a Brussels Sprout and Navy Bean Salad.  It didn’t last all week because I shared with a student intern on Thursday so had to get a falafel on Friday.

Cost $12.18 – or $2.44/serving  Time:  prep: 15 mins, cooking 30 mins

Lunch for Eve

Eve’s school lunch varies but is usually something like this:

  • Meat and cheese (2-3 slices, 5-6 slices)
  • Rice Crackers 10-12
  • Organic berries – 1/3 cup
  • Unsweetened apple sauce
  • Homemade dessert (ex. 2 cookies)
  • Cut of veg (cuc, peppers or carrots)

Average cost = $2.96

Breakfast and lunch for Dan

All over the map. He’ll often have a banana and coffee early in the morning, then something else mid-morning. Then a small lunch. Then sometimes another small lunch. 🙂 It depends on the day, but lunch is usually leftovers from dinner, a cost already occurred in the above meals.

Breakfast for Eve and I:

Bowl of cereal for Eve, 2 apples with peanut butter for me, and 2 cups of coffee.

(The interesting thing here – we drink organic, fair-trade coffee with organic cream (Dan) or milk (Tara).  Each cup cost about $0.70.  We could get cheaper ingredients and cut coffee costs to under 10 cents a cup, but it’s still far cheaper than coffee out. And really delicious. Thank you Creemore Coffee Company! :))

Download the recipes (PDF)

The Dirty Dozen: Choosing Produce With Less Pesticide

picture-4As organic food begins to occupy more and more space in grocery stores, you may have found yourself standing in the produce aisle wondering whether organic produce is worth the price. And if you can’t get organic, or it’s not in your budget, how do you make produce choices that limit your pesticide exposure?

In short, when does organic matter the most?

The Environmental Working Group decided to answer that question by studying the pesticides present on 47 different fruits and vegetables. From that, they released what they called the “dirty dozen” – 12 foods that you should avoid or buy organic whenever possible.

The EWG estimates that you can lower your pesticide exposure by up to 80% by focusing on the low-pesticide foods and/or eating the “dirty dozen” in organic form.

The Dirty Dozen: The 12 Most Contaminated

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears

The Clean 15: The 15 Least Contaminated

  • Onion
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato
  • Sweet Potato

You can read the full list of all 47, ranked from highest to lowest, or better yet, there’s a free wallet card to help you remember next time you’re shopping, and even an iPhone app!

Before You Diet: What We’ve Learned About Weight Loss

It’s the time of year for change. With the new year comes a drive for renewal that seems to touch almost everyone in the form of resolutions, new commitments and a dedication to just get better.

That drive, of course, is often focused on our health, and in particular, our weight. Before you jump on the latest diet fad, though, here are a few tips and ideas we’ve discovered in our years of helping patients find their best bodies.

It’s About Gaining Health, Not Losing Weight

Despite all the focus on losing weight, the truth is that healthy weight loss is a side effect. It’s the result of gaining health – of pursuing a healthy mind and body, and making changes that are sustainable in the long run. To find your best body, you first have to find your best health. The right weight will follow.

The Scale Isn’t The Story

It’s easy to become obsessed with the number on the scale, but it’s only part of the picture. Your weight is just one measure of health, and it’s not an entirely reliable one. The number on your scale can fluctuate based on any number of different factors, and the scale never tells you the difference between fat and muscle, how much water you’re retaining, or whether your changing weight is helping you or hurting you.

You Can’t Do It Without Moving Your Body

Research on people who’ve successfully lost weight has shown that almost no one can successfully sustain weight loss without doing some exercise. Dieting without exercise is a sure ticket to a yo-yo roller coaster of loss and gain that will leave you less healthy and more heavy than ever. You may need to do other things to find your best body, but you can bet that exercise is a prerequisite.

Sometimes, There Are Hidden Roadblocks

Your body is a complicated piece of machinery. Really complicated. And there are times when a simple “eat less, exercise more” prescription just doesn’t do the job. Things like food intolerances and toxicity can affect your metabolism, your energy and your ability to burn fat. Sometimes, it pays to dig deeper into your own biochemistry to make sure you’re not missing a piece of the puzzle.

Too Much Change at Once is A Tough Job

No matter how you choose to find your best health and your best body, it’s going to require change, and change is often a dish best served slowly. Biting off more than you can chew – like trying to have a pristine diet and perfect lifestyle – can be an overwhelming and unsustainable prospect. Try to make small changes you can sustain, and gradually add more over time.

If you need help with your health goals, you can learn more about the StoneTree Sustainable Body Change program here, or call 705-444-5331 to book a complimentary appointment to discover our unique approach to weight loss.

The Silver Bullet for Diabetes Prevention

November 14th was World Diabetes Day, celebrated in over 160 countries around the world. It’s most certainly a global problem, but diabetes has plenty of local presence, too: over 900 000 people have been diagnosed in Ontario alone.

Diabetes affects our ability to get sugar from the blood into the cells where it’s needed to run our bodies. In Type I diabetes, there simply is no insulin to do the sugar transfer job. The pancreas is supposed to produce it, but it doesn’t.  In Type II diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the cells just don’t respond to it – they’ve become “insulin resistant”.

Here’s the thing, though: Type II diabetes accounts for 90% of all diabetes cases, and it’s largely preventable.

You’ve heard that diabetes is genetic, but that’s not the entire story.  Your family may have given you susceptibility, but that’s it. The real trouble starts when you put that susceptibility in a high calorie, high fructose corn syrup, overweight environment.

But here’s the good news: if you’re heading down the genetic pathway to diabetes, you can change direction.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, clearly outlined the power of lifestyle change.  In this study, 523 people with pre-diabetes (their blood sugar was off, but not at diabetic levels yet), were given the following goals:

•    Reduce body weight by 5%
•    Reduce total dietary fat to <30%
•    Reduce dietary saturated fat to <10%
•    Increase dietary fiber to 30g/day
•    Walk 30 minutes/day

If the person did not achieve any of these goals, their chance of developing diabetes was approximately 30%.  Of the people who achieved 4-5 of these goals, however, not a single person went on to develop diabetes.  Not one.

The study points to one empowering result: we really do have the power to change our genetic destiny!

-Tara

Detoxification: Why it Works and How to Do It

Hi all,

This is an article we wrote for the Fall 2008 issue of Body Magazine – I thought you might find it interesting!

-Tara

Feeling Better Through Detoxification

Inside this complex organism we call “you”, a remarkable set of organs and processes works vigilantly to deal with unwanted and unneeded substances that find their way from the outside of your body to the inside.

The system works quite well. At least, it used to work well. Your natural detoxification organs – things like your bowels, kidneys, liver and skin – weren’t designed to deal with the excesses of modern life. Some unnecessary food, nutrients, and bacteria? Sure. Food additives, environmental toxins and modern stresses? That’s another matter altogether.

This toxic load builds over time, and can lead to an array of chronic problems like skin conditions, digestive and bowel complaints, allergies, fatigue, and headaches, to name just a few. In order to level the playing ground for your struggling system, additional forms of detoxification can be used to help your body “take out the trash” more regularly and effectively.

There are many ways to detoxify:

  • Diet regimes reduce the intake of toxicity from your food, and increase fiber and water intake to help flush your system.
  • Colon hydrotherapy gently cleanses the colon to improve bowel function and detoxify the liver.
  • Supplements can stimulate the detoxification systems of the body, and provide them with the vitamins and minerals they need to operate effectively.
  • Saunas induce sweating to help remove toxins via the skin, liver and kidneys.
  • IV Chelation uses substances intravenously (vitamin C, for example) to bind to toxins and flush them from the body.

Each detoxification strategy has its unique characteristics, and may be used in combination or alone depending on the ailment and your health history. To learn more about how detoxification can help you, contact us anytime at 444-5331.