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!


Vacation: It’s Not About What You Don’t Do

Everyone loves a vacation. After months of the daily grind, a week or two at the cottage feels like a balm for the soul and exactly what the doctor ordered.

It’s easy to think that the “good feelings” associated with vacation are about what we don’t do. They’re the result of NOT working, not commuting, not rushing, not stressing.

But what if that’s not the whole story?

What if the value of our vacations isn’t about what we give up, but what we do that we don’t normally? What if it’s not about what we stop, but what we start?

For example:

Sleep. Some 40 % of north Americans don’t sleep more than seven hours. During holidays, going to bed early, sleeping in, and napping in a hammock are all par for the course. Sleep detoxes the brain, resets hormones, strengthens the immune system, repairs our bodies and brains so we can take on the next day. And we don’t do enough of it during work periods.

Exercise. Vacations afford us the time to do the physical activities we love. There’s time to hike, kayak, canoe, walk around beautiful cities or interesting festivals. All this movement, creates increased blood flow to tissues, eventually relaxing tense muscles and lubricating stiff joints. Even if you don’t like to move, vacations often force you to.

Being outside. So much of our working days are spent indoors breathing recycled air. Our vacation time usually gets us out of the house and into the outdoors. The sun gets to work on our skin making valuable vitamin D, the fresh air gets to clean out our lungs and our eyes get to feast on the natural colours of blue and green which can balance our hormones and increase sleep quality.

Laughing. There is no better medicine than laughter. A big laugh relieves stress, boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones, and more. And laughs always seem bigger and more frequent on vacation.

It seems that many of the things we do in our vacation time are also things that support and maintain good health. The trouble is we’re only doing them a few times a year!

If you’re taking time off this summer, enjoy it. But while you’re there, ask yourself: Is there a way to bring some of this goodness home with me?

Acupuncture for Infertility

They call it the miracle of life for good reason. When you consider how many things have to happen just perfectly for your little bundle of joy to actually get a start on the inside, it really does seem miraculous:

  • Your hormones have to work the make an egg mature in the first place.
  • That egg needs to be of a good enough quality and able to mature.
  • The follicle that develops the mature egg, needs to be able to rupture and release it.
  • The fallopian tube needs to “pick up” that released egg.
  • The sperm needs to actually survive the trip through vagina and cervix and into the uterus and be able the find the egg.
  • The sperm has to be healthy and strong enough to actually penetrate the egg.
  • The now fertilized egg has to divide and continue to until it implants.
  • The endometrial lining needs to be properly developed and receptive to implantation.

This, and more, all has to happen at the right time of the month–and that can be a bit of a moving target itself. It truly is a miracle that babies get made at all!

It is estimated that the current rate of infertility is about 50% for couples with a female partner under age 35, and about 80% by age 40. That represents a lot of couples who are having problems with one of our basic human drives.

There are many treatments now for couples with infertility, but one that is getting a lot of attention is acupuncture. Whether used on its own or in concert with conventional infertility treatments, research continues to show that acupuncture consistently improves outcomes in almost all cases.

  • In 2002 a study published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility followed 160 women who underwent IVF. 80 women received acupuncture with IVF and the other 80 received IVF only. In the IVF only group, 21 women got pregnant compared to 34 in the IVF + acupuncture.
  • Another piece of research compared acupuncture to Clomid (an ovulation-stimulating drug). It was found that within 3 months of using either treatment there was a 50% pregnancy rate.

How does acupuncture work to improve fertility? The practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine would say it balances the flow of the Qi (or energy) throughout the body. From a western medicine perspective, it is believed that it increases pelvic blood flow, calms the nervous system promoting relaxation, and reduces uterine contractions.

Regardless of the belief system, the outcome is the same: more miracles. 🙂

Dr. Candice Soldaat is StoneTree Clinic’s naturopathic doctor with a special interest in infertility. You can book an appointment online here, or call 705-444-5331.

The Hidden Creep of Inflammatory Foods

As Naturopathic Doctors, we deal with a lot of chronic issues. You know–the stuff that’s been hanging around for years, such as:

  • Joint pain and muscle aches,
  • Skin problems – like acne, eczema or other inflammations.
  • Fatigue
  • IBS
  • Heartburn and other tummy troubles
  • Headaches
  • Mood problems
  • Post nasal drip

The list goes on. They’re the frustrating symptoms that aren’t always life-threatening, but they certainly affect quality of life.

Many of these symptoms can be a result of what you eat–we’ve written about this many times before:

It’s surprisingly simple, in theory. Food really is medicine, and often our patients get a food intolerance test, go on an elimination diet and feel sooo much better.

But then months or even years later, I get a visit like I had last week.

A patient I haven’t seen in a while arrives with list of problems:

  • An injury is not healing properly after months of therapy.
  • His body is aching all over.
  • Sleep is difficult, broken, and just doesn’t seem to refresh.
  • A skin problem, once under control, is starting to be a problem again.

On top of it all, he is just SO tired all the time.

Now, I know this patient. I know that he has many significant inflammatory reactions to food. His response, though, is, “I don’t understand. I haven’t changed anything. What happened?”

What happened was the slow creep of living life in North America. The diet change that was adhered to at the start is slowly becoming more and more lax. The odd intrusion of an inflammatory food every four or five days has become more like a little bit every day. As a result, the inflammation begins to accumulate and the symptoms slowly creep back in.

The solution? I remind this patient about the impact of his diet on his health. We review his food intolerance test results and discover that many of his reactive foods are getting into his diet far more frequently than thought. He resolves to change.

Four weeks later we follow up and he feels great. All of his symptoms have resolved, some within the first week.

The story here isn’t one of extremes and diet “nevers”. It’s about being aware that change–both positive and negative–is a slow process and one that isn’t always easy to spot.

Your health is a moving target, and your life is an ever-changing playing field. Sometimes, our role as doctors is to capture snapshots along the way so that, like a time-lapse video, you can see a change that might have been invisible while it was happening.