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

A New Year’s Call to Quit Smoking

Earlier this month Fortune reported that former New York mayor Micheal Bloomberg’s foundation is committing over $300 million to fight global tobacco use. The hope is that helping developing countries with anti-smoking campaigns may result in the same decline in tobacco use that we have experienced here in the northern hemisphere.

In 2015, the Canadian Tobacco report, stated that only 15% of Canadians reported to be smokers–an all time low.

This stat makes the gang at StoneTree celebrate. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease. Seeing the percentage of Canadian smokers hit its lowest ever is awesome, but we would love to see that number to be zero one day in the future.

Alan Carr, author of Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking has helped millions of people successfully quit. We have recommended his resources a lot. You can find his book here, and more information on his methods here.

Here’s to a smoke free 2017!

It’s Official: Complaining is Bad For You

Sometimes there is nothing better then sitting down with a bunch of girlfriends and having a good vent. Your husband keeps leaving the toilet seat up. Your kids are driving you crazy. Your boss makes your life a misery. Endless housework and shopping and driving the kids everywhere. You feel tired, look haggard and you haven’t had any fun for weeks. (Sound familiar yet?)

Getting negativity off your chest can be great, but when complaining becomes a daily habit, it turns out that it’s not just annoying to those around you, it is actually damaging your health:

  • Chronic complaining has been shown to shrink the hippocampus–that’s the area of the brain responsible for problem solving. Less problem solving=bad.
  • Chronic complaining also increases the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been associated with decreased immune function, increased blood sugar and blood pressure, increased weight gain, and a whole host of chronic diseases. Also bad.

Things get worse, though, because, as the article above states, “Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you.”

Ouch.

What to do about it?

Travis Bradberry, writing for Entrepeuner.com has a couple of great ideas.

Be grateful. Every time you feel yourself complaining about your lot in life, stop. Stop yourself and think of something you are grateful for. Kids making you crazy? Think how grateful you are that they are all healthy and well and you are not spending your Christmas season with one of them in the hospital.

Be purposeful. Sometimes our complaining is an insight into something in our life that has to change.   Consistently complaining about a job? Maybe it’s time to consider a career change. Not happy with your weight? Time to get off of the couch. Not happy with your finances? Maybe it’s time to sit down and make a plan.

Not happy with your husband? That’s up to you, but at the risk of harming your hippocampus, I’m sure your girlfriends will still tolerate a little more complaining…:)

Maximizing Your Extended Benefits

Most of our patients have chronic health problems that they’ve been suffering with for years–a long and slow process of symptoms showing up, then getting more frequent or becoming more intense.

At some point, their MD has done all the tests and the story usually arrives at one of these endings:

  • “There is nothing that can be done.”
  • “You’re just getting older.”
  • “It’s in your genes.”

Or my personal favourite: “It’s all in your head.”

When patients arrive at StoneTree, however, and discover how chronic and acute problems need a different approach, the story changes. Often, it seems there really are things that can be done.

At this point, it’s not uncommon for patients to say, “Why didn’t I come sooner?”

The Cost Barrier and Maximizing Your Benefits

Of course, one of the reasons that people don’t come sooner is the investment. Naturopathic care is not covered by OHIP. The full hour-long new patient visit is not covered. The lab tests are not covered. The treatments are not covered. And as Canadians, having to pay out of pocket for health care can take some getting used to.

Fortunately, extended health coverage is picking up the alternative and complementary medicine tab more often, and giving their members better and better coverage. Collingwood and area teachers, for example have recently had their coverage for naturopathic edicine increased to $1000 a year per family member.

If you, or a friend or family member is considering visiting a naturopath, starting with the most expensive initial visits at the end of a benefit cycle allows you to maximize coverage to get the best care. 

The first few visits with ND’s are often the most expensive, but after that, treatment intensity normally decreases and becomes much easier to afford. You can get started before the new year, and then your benefits renew, giving you lots of coverage to deal with your treatment plan starting in January without interruption.

To learn more about how naturopathic medicine can help you, call 705-444-5331, or book online at www.stonetreeclinic.com.

The Nature-Mood Connection

The days are getting shorter, and the nights colder! We’re almost at that time of year when, unless you’re a skier, getting outside in nature can seem like a lot of work compared to putting on comfy clothes and curling up with Netflix.

We’ve written a lot about getting outside in the winter. The fresh air and exercise help your immune system, increase energy, and help the seasonal blues. Now, we’re back again to take another pre-winter run at convincing you that getting outside is critical for your health.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has added more support to the idea of getting outside as a way of managing mood, but this time with a twist. In this case, the study went beyond just “outside”. It looked at two different groups of people – those who went for a 90-minute walk in nature, and those who went for a 90-minute walk in an urban environment.

More Room, Less Rumination

Researchers have known for years that there’s a connection between urban life and mental illness (urban dwellers suffer more), but the causation and mechanism have been tough to figure out definitively. Is it something about city life that makes it worse? Or does country living make it better? Both?

In this case, the researchers wanted to look specifically at what’s called rumination–basically thinking too much about things that upset you. Rumination is important because it’s associated with a host of mental and physical complaints, including depression.

The result? Based on brain images and self-reporting, the team determined that those who went out for a walk in nature showed a decrease in rumination.

And those who walked in an urban environment? No change.

The takeaway here is that the change wasn’t about the exercise in general, it was about being in nature. Both groups walked the same distance, just in different environments.

Half the world now lives in an urban environment, which leaves urban planners with some food for thought. In the meantime, those of us in the Collingwood area should take advantage of our good fortune and get outside this winter!

And as for the snow and cold? It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Do your mood a favour: get a good coat, a warm hat, and great mitts. Invest in a good pair of warm, dry boots. Your brain will thank you!

Left to the Wrong Devices: How Your Teen’s Sleep is Suffering

When I was 15 there were exactly two ways to connect with your friends: seeing them in person, or talking on the phone.

This was in the 80’s. If you were lucky, your house had a phone with a big long cord that you could take into your room. Your parents, siblings or pets were sure to trip over it, leading to the inevitable, “You’re spending to much time on that darn phone!” tirade.

At 9PM at our house, the phone option was shut down. No more incoming phone calls were accepted. The social options were over, and it was time to go to bed. There was no Internet. No Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat or Twitter.

Now? Every single teen has their own phone with seemingly unlimited options for connection and communication.

They have to keep up their “streaks”, make sure they are posting to their wall, ensure they are giving their friends enough “likes”. And they do it on multiple platforms for dozens of friends at a time.

Reduced Sleep has Health Consequences

It would be easy to dismiss this as a “when I was your age” rant, but in 15 years of practice I have seen a change in my teen patients around sleep and mood. Of course teens want to stay up later and sleep in. Of course they can be moody and prickly. They are teens, after all.

But typical teen moodiness is not what I’m talking about.

We are seeing more teens (and pre-teens) with true insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders than we ever did 15 years ago. A recent study about mobile phone use and teens has recently confirmed what I already thought to be true: Kids and teens with access to tablets and smartphones at bedtime sleep less and are sleepier during the day.

This review article looked at 20 previous studies which, when combined, covered more the 125,000 kids. The reviewers excluded studies that looked at TV or personal computer use. So this wasn’t about “screen time”. It was about the engagement of using a tablet or smartphone.

Texting vs Talking

With a good old-fashioned phone conversation, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. In the texting or social media world, conversations can keep going all night. And if you get up for a pee in the middle of the night? Check your phone for the time and 15 new notifications draw you right back in.

Add to that the fact that your teen can re-engage without disrupting anyone in the house. When we were kids, you would never phone a friend at 3AM–you’d wake the whole house up and there would be consequences for that!

How to Help Your Teens

So how do we help our teenagers? We can’t take the smartphones away – that would be tantamount to putting them on a desert island.  Connecting to their friends is VERY important to teens and is an important put of how they develop their autonomous and independent selves.

What we can do is help develop skills and boundaries around the use of these great tools of communication and connection.

  • Set a “finish” time. When I was a kid, phone use was done at 9PM. Why not set a time for conversations to be over with smartphones as well? This allows your teen to finish all their conversations. Their friends know that they are off-line at a certain time and there is no possibility of connecting.
  • Get the technology out of the bedroom. Bedrooms are made for sleeping and reading when you are a teenager. Screens, phones, homework, really anything that engages their brains should be left to other rooms of the house.
  • Practice not being connected. Just because you can connect – doesn’t mean you should. Go for a walk with your teen and leave the phone at home. Insist they get a weekend job, where using their phone is not allowed or not possible. Support their schools in no-phone policies in class.

Kids need to experience the joy of solitude, quiet and focus, but may not be able to choose that on their own…hence one more tip:

  • Model the behaviour you want to see. Practice improving your own sleep and device-free time, too! Remember, kids do as you do, not as you say…:)

Sleep is a Result, Not a Behaviour

Getting enough good quality sleep is essential to good health. Sleep repairs the body, resets hormones, detoxifies the brain and just makes us feel ready to take on the day.

But anyone who has had insomnia knows that the suggestion to just “sleep more” isn’t possible. As tired as an insomniac is, and as committed to getting to sleep as they might be, they still are unable to get the result they so desperately want.

As Naturopathic Doctors, we know that despite what the dictionary says, sleep isn’t a verb. It’s a noun. It’s a thing you get, not a thing you do.

Sleep isn't a verb. It's a noun. It's a thing you GET, not a thing you DO. Click To Tweet

Most people who are not getting enough sleep fall into this category. They are the folks who despite making time for sleep, can’t actually fall asleep, can’t stay asleep or never feel rested when they wake. The sleep behaviour is there, but they are not getting the result.

For these people, sleep comes as a result of other behaviours, like:

  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Understanding which foods are inflammatory for you and removing them from your diet can go a long way to increasing sleep quality. Decreased body aches, stuffiness and snoring make for a less restless and more restful sleep. Ensuring a high-quality diet can help with leg cramps due to magnesium deficiency, or restless legs due to iron or B12 deficiency
  • Drinking water. Imbalanced relationships with caffeine and alcohol decrease sleep quality, increase wakefulness, and increase hot flashes and night sweats–one of the most common causes of sleep disturbances in the post-40 crowd.
  • Quitting smoking. The oxidative stress on the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs creates lots of inflammation. This inflammation needs to be healed and repaired at night. Those repairs cause lots of mucous….and snoring and sleep interruptions in turn. Yet another good reason to quit
  • Moving your body. Regular exercise is one of the best sleeping pills. Stimulating blood flow and increasing oxygenation helps your body to heal and resolve the inflammation of the day.
  • Addressing chronic stress sources. Relationship troubles, financial struggles, job woes and other mental and emotional challenges make for poor sleep. The more you address these things, even in tiny steps, the better sleep becomes.

If you aren’t sleeping, ask yourself: Are you just trying to sleep, or are you doing the things that actually deliver it?

Are you just trying to sleep, or are you doing the things that actually deliver it? Click To Tweet

It’s Never Too Late

One of my favourite quotes by Dr. Wayne Dyer is, “Don’t die with your music still in you.”

The first time I heard it, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I was in my 20’s at the time and the entire world was before me. The thought of dying at all never occurred to me, let alone dying without having fully lived.

Well into my 40’s now, the quote is something I think about from time to time. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of your mid-life–working, paying bills, driving kids, making dinner. All I can really think of some days is getting through the to-do list so I can get to bed. Forget about thinking about the music left in me.

This little video about Deshun Wang, the “world’s hottest Grampa”, brought Dr. Dryer’s quote back to mind. It’s under two minutes, and worth every second.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA0g2T7z5ic

We are capable of great things as humans at ANY age. Our bodies and minds are not “too old” and unable to be strong again, bright again and engaged again. We can start working out at any age. We can start eating healthy at any age. We can create something new and exciting at any age. We can engage in worthwhile relationships at any age.

These things are not reserved for the young they are available to us all at any time. So heed Dr. Dyer’s advice and get up there and start singing.

How Food Manufacturers Hide Sugar From You

Canadians eat an average of 110 grams of sugar per day. That is the equivalent of 26 teaspoons or a half cup of sugar. Every day. 

This is astonishing on a couple of levels. First of all, that’s over 20% of our daily calories. Just in sugar. But that’s just the beginning. WHO guidelines suggest that in order to avoid all kinds of chronic diseases, sugar intake should be limited to just 25g per day. That’s just six teaspoons. (How much is in a single can of Coke, you ask? 39 grams!)

Sugar sucks for health. In a 60 Minutes story from 2013, leading researchers blamed it for the increase in heart disease and obesity as well as contributing to cancers of the breast and colon.

In the same show, we also got a look at the effect of sugar on the brain. In imaging studies that look at the activity of the brain, sugar given to study subjects releases dopamine and lights the reward centres of the brain just like cocaine. And as with addictive drugs, we can also build a tolerance to sugar, so more sugar is needed to get the same good feeling.

What to Do?

Armed with this knowledge patients can choose to avoid sugars – removing soda pop and iced tea, avoiding ice cream and donuts and taking a pass on the chocolate bar aisle. But if change isn’t hard enough on its own, many processed foods will have lots of “hidden” added sugars both in the form of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. How are you supposed to cut sugars out when you’re being fooled?

The easiest way is to simply avoid things in packages. If you cook at home from raw ingredients, you’re well on your way.

However, as you work toward the goal of preparing more of your own food, let’s take a close look at the way food manufacturers are fooling you about sugar (And make no mistake–it’s straight up trickery.)

Trick #1: Sugar in Disguise

Sugar now masquerades in many different ways. Here’s a list of alternative names for sugar from Hungry for Change:

Regardless of how they sound, the following are all sugar:
Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado,  Sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar

Trick #2: Sugar Redistribution

When food manufacturers can get sugar in so many forms, they get access to a new trick. Again, here’s Hungry for Change:

So for example, if a manufacturer wants to sweeten up a certain brand of crackers, it can either do this using 15 grams of “sugar” or, 5 grams of “malt syrup,” 5 grams of “invert sugar” and 5 grams of “glucose”. Some manufacturers seem to be choosing this divide and masquerade method, placing these ingredients lower down on their products’ lists, making us believe that the amount of sugar in the product is smaller than it is. Bingo!

Changing Labels

This year the FDA launched the addition of “added sugar” to the nutritional labels of packaged and processed foods. It’s a start for our friends south of the border.

Canada has yet to follow suit. Plans are in the works, but implementation could still be years off. Let your local MP know that this information is important and that it’s your right to have it.

Chronic Problems vs Acute Expectations

In medicine, we use the term acute to refer to an illness or disease that comes on suddenly, and doesn’t last long. Heart attacks are acute. Colds and flu are, too. Acute illnesses tend to either get better fairly quickly–with treatment, or often without–or kill you. Usually, it’s the former.

We see our fair share of acute problems: infections, injuries, colds, flu, sore throats, and all manner of other complaints that need to be dealt with.

Where naturopathic medicine shines even brighter, however, is in chronic illness. Unlike an acute problem, chronic conditions come on far more slowly, often getting worse over time. Arthritis. IBS. Crohn’s and colitis. Persistent back pain. Recurring migraines. Heart disease, kidney disease. It’s a long list. And unlike acute problems, they don’t go away on their own, at least not for long. They’re stubborn, and they take a special approach. Here’s why.

The Two Challenges of Chronic Illness

Beyond the obvious problem that they keep hanging around messing up your life, chronic problems have two other distinct challenges:

  1. They’re difficult to diagnose. Acute problems often have readily identifiable causes. That broken leg? It’s because you broke your leg. There’s no mystery. Typical solution? Pain control, reset, cast, heal, and done. Chronic migraines, though? Wow. It could be hormonal imbalances. Environmental toxins. Musculoskeletal imbalances. Stress. Food intolerances. Chronic diagnosis is an art form. It takes time and experience, and that’s why ND’s seem to take forever during your initial visit. The more persistent and mysterious the problem, the more information we need. We’re the Sherlock Holmes of health care.
  2. They’re challenging to fix. Moreover, it’s not just the diagnosis that’s tricky, treating chronic problems is no cakewalk either. Not because the treatments don’t work, but because they’re harder to do. Acute conditions are often dealt with quickly–take a pill, get a cast, rub on a cream. Then wait. Chronic conditions are a whole different story. They take longer, and worse still, they often require significant lifestyle change on the part of the patient. You have to change the way you live your life, and that’s a lot more demanding than taking a pill.

Chronic Problems meet Acute Expectations

Of course, that’s where things get tricky. As a culture, we’re not accustomed to the challenges of fixing chronic complaints. We’re used to acute solutions–the pills, the injections, the bandages. We’re used to looking for the “one thing” that is responsible for our symptoms, and the “one thing” that will fix it.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases there really isn’t “one thing” at all. The real cause of a chronic illness generally is a result of long-term “un-wellness”. In effect, it’s lots of things.

It’s months of poor sleep. It’s years of crappy eating. It’s one too many glasses of wine and too few glasses of water. It’s no movement and lots of TV watching. It’s years of exposure to chemicals. It’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover.

Basically, it’s a host of chronic behaviors that give a chronic result: a body that can never fully heal and recover. A body that’s overwhelmed with inflammation, raging with out-of-whack hormones and low-grade nutritional deficiencies. A body–and its owner–that has energy in the toilet, poor sleep, crappy moods, even crappier digestion, and a lackluster sex life.

That’s more than chronic illness. It’s chronic unhappiness, discomfort, and confusion.

Most chronic symptoms are really the body screaming at its owner to take better care of it overall.

The good news is that despite all these obstacles, much chronic disease is still very treatable. You can change, and you can see the results. We do every day!