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…

Exercise Lowers Blood Sugar

Yet another study to show the value of exercise.

Researchers discovered that patients who increased their daily step count by 2,000 steps saw decreases in both their blood sugar and insulin resistance levels.

The decreases aren’t huge–only 0.4 points for blood sugar and 1 point for insulin resistance–but neither was the increase in steps. If you work it out, 2000 steps is about 1.5 km. That’s a 10-15 min walk. We’re talking pretty small lifestyle changes. What if you doubled that to 30 minutes a day?

We’ve shared this video many times, but it can’t be shared enough. It does such a great job of illustrating the great things can come from a 30-minute daily commitment.

It’s spring! Get outside, walk around, and improve your health!

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.

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.

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!

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…:)